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  • Jason McCarty

When Things Are Going Well

Although there are many great aspects to psychology and psychotherapy, one pitfall is that sometimes we can get too focused on problem solving.  This can sometimes keep us stuck in only seeing the world as problems to be solved.  For a lot of the time in therapy this is necessary otherwise people would not really need to come in, but it is also important to discuss when things are going well.

The problems in one’s life take up a lot of “attention,” if you will, but they do not paint a full picture of one’s life.  Most of the time people are doing many things well, living a life they feel good about.  There are usually many areas they feel confident in, proud of, and satisfied about.  But when problems enter our lives it’s like all of a sudden that’s all we can see!  Then, those problems begin to define us: I’m an alcoholic; I’m depressed; I have such and such disorder; I live with pain; and on goes the list.  These are difficult yes, but do they paint a full picture of who you are?  Are they an honest assessment of your abilities and accomplishments?

In some ways we are getting to a half glass empty/half full type of discussion.  I’m encouraging us here to have balance in where we put our attention.  If we are always focused on our problems, we will always have problems.  If we focus on our strengths and on things we are doing well, we will have a more realistic portrayal of our lives.

So this brings me to the broader idea of when things are going well in one’s life – when the problems seem minor or not there at all.  What is this like?  How do you know when you are there?  What is going on in your life when things are going well?  What helps that along? Sometimes my clients and I should be talking more about what they do well so that we are balancing where we put our attention.  Always talking about problems only perpetuates a problem-focused life.

There is a theory of psychotherapy called Solution Focused Therapy that takes this approach.  I believe they look too much at the strengths and lose perspective in the other direction, but at least they are attempting to see one’s strengths.  Positive Psychology is another field that has studied when people are happy, when things are going well, in order to help others do the same.  Again, I believe this area of study loses perspective on real life problems, but they have done a lot of great work in understanding happiness and a more positive attention.  Balance.  What we need in all areas of our lives is balance and perspective.  We need to alternate back and forth between bringing our attention to the top and bottom parts of the glass.  Both are true.

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