Welcome to Happy School Advanced, the online course that further explains the principles in Happy School: Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry.
You can learn to overcome depression, discouragement, excessive disappointment, and worry by learning the secrets of thinking correctly. You can’t control life, but you can learn to control how you think. This will change your happiness in a monumental way because our emotions come from our thoughts.
The secrets of happiness are not new. While in the midst of a filthy, disgusting Roman prison, the amazing Apostle Paul said to “Rejoice!” And in the next sentence, he says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” That’s wild, don’t you think? Is Paul saying someone is to rejoice and not be anxious in the midst of horrible circumstances? He actually is. How is this possible?
A couple sentences later, Paul says a remarkable thing once again. He tells us what to think about! This guy is sitting on the floor of some deplorable prison and he is giving us Rooms to Move Into (from Lesson 1 in Happy School). This is how Paul lived above his despicable circumstances. Paul wrote that we should think about things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.” Now those are some helpful, positive Rooms!
I’d read those verses in Philippians 4 for years (decades?) and had not made the connection that by thinking the right thoughts I could rejoice and not be anxious (i.e., have the right emotions). Learning that one has the power to choose what they think about was truly life-changing for me.
As I say repeatedly, your understanding of this material will soar if you discuss it with friends. The women who have gone through my online classes, Wife School Advanced and Skinny School Advanced, with others have had far superior results. That’s because iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17). And as you might already know, the best way to learn anything is to teach it.
An important note: If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. Implementing these principles in your life can completely change the landscape of your mind, but it will not happen overnight. Please call someone right now. (Click HERE to go to a website with various crisis hotlines for believers.)
Before you begin this week’s lesson, please read The Genie Arrives and Lesson 1 in the book, Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry.
School is now in session.
Week 1, Day 1
Understanding the Foundational Puzzle Pieces to Overcome Discouragement and Worry
Recently I met with a medical doctor who told me his wife has had severe depression for years. The couple has been through many therapies trying to find answers. I said to him, “Emotions are from thoughts. Thoughts always proceed emotions. If you change your thoughts, you can change your emotions.” This genius guy was shocked! He was convinced his wife was the victim of her emotions. He had no idea she was the producer of them. This is life-altering information to those of us who have struggled with negative emotions for years.
In Lesson 1, the Genie explains the four foundational puzzle pieces of Happy School. The first foundational puzzle piece is that thoughts, not reality, determine one’s emotions. (Remember the examples of the dark alley at midnight and the cute guy who supposedly wanted Darby’s phone number?) When you realize you are the producer of your emotions, your life changes. You master your moods by mastering your thoughts.
The second foundational puzzle piece is that God made our brains so we can only think one thought at a time. Women especially seem to be the proverbial “multi-taskers,” doing many things at one time. Cooking, getting clothes out of the dryer, getting toddlers dressed, listening to her husband talk about his new co-worker, and simultaneously checking her email about a delayed order is second nature to many women. Yes, these clever women are actually multi-tasking (doing several things at once), but their brains are actually only thinking about one thing at a time and they are merely switching back and forth between topics quickly. It is important you understand that you can’t think two thoughts at the same time.
The third foundational puzzle piece of Happy School is that you can listen in on your own self-talk and analyze it. You can think about your thinking. You can ask yourself, “What was I just thinking that has produced this emotion?” You can uncover your previous thought if you try. Thinking about your thinking is something only humans can do. (No monkey has a brain with this kind of consciousness.) This gift of metacognition is extravagantly powerful.
The fourth foundational puzzle piece is maybe the most surprising and helpful of all. I discovered this truth while on a family vacation at the beach 15 years ago. The puzzle piece is this: you can interrupt your thinking (Hot Potatoes) and Move into Another Room in Your Brain, (think about something else). You can choose to Change Rooms. This is an astronomical, humongous, colossal truth! Before this time, I had no idea I could choose to consciously stop thinking one thought by intentionally thinking about another one.
Now that you’ve read Lesson 1 in Happy School, you know these four raw basics. This is the magic. There’s so much else to learn, but these are the four foundational principles that will allow you to gain freedom from being ransacked by negative emotions. Read and reread the Genie’s teaching until you completely understand these foundational truths. Everything else in the book is based on these principles.
Week 1, Day 2
Having the Necessary Tools to Fight Discouragement and Worry
This morning I woke up at 5:30 AM. As I was walking down the hall toward the kitchen to make coffee, I heard the negative Parade start its March: I don’t feel very well this morning. Something I wanted to happen yesterday didn’t happen. There’s a big area in my life that’s disappointing and it’s too late to fix it. This all happened in my mind before I reached the kitchen!
But I’ve been training my mind to listen to my Parade and my self-talk for several years. I know negative thoughts cause negative emotions and that I have to Change Rooms. An easy Room to Move into is the Gratitude Room and therefore, I begin to list things in my life I’m grateful for.
Although I’m only half awake, I challenge the Parade and begin: I’m glad I can see. Blindness would be difficult. I’m glad I can walk. It would be inconvenient not to walk. (Now I’m pouring water into the coffee machine.) I’m grateful for the caregivers that assist me with my 91-year-old disabled mother.
Force yourself to list items you’re thankful for until you can feel your mood change. You master your moods by mastering your thoughts. I will never wake up tap dancing or, like Cinderella, singing with the birds. I’m afraid I may have to fight a portion of negativity many mornings for the rest of my life. But since I have the tools, it takes mere minutes until I can get myself in a different emotional zone.
My coffee is now ready and it’s time for my morning Bible study. Currently, I’m reading through Matthew Henry’s commentary on the New Testament (written in the early 1700’s). You choose what you put in your mind and you choose what you let hang around in your mind. You have an amazing amount of control over what you think about.
Remember, new habits take much time and practice so be patient with yourself. You have the opportunity to make much headway during the next 12 weeks of Happy School Advanced.
Week 1, Day 3
Rooms to Move into When Your World Crashes Down
Sometimes the bottom falls out. What you could never have imagined, happened. The pain is so intense you can hardly breathe.
If this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’m happy for you. It has happened to me. On the day I got the bad news, my heart dropped and broke into a million pieces.
Maybe your situation was, “The baby’s heart is not beating.” Or maybe it was, “I want a divorce.” Or maybe, “You will never walk again.” Or, “Your daughter (daughter-in-law) doesn’t want the grandkids to be with you.” I’m not sure what devastating situation you have been faced with, but “in this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
For months during my own difficult time, I would rise early in the morning with the heaviest of hearts. With my Bible in one hand and a journal in the other, I would search for promises assuring me that God heard my cries, that He cared, and that He was able to intervene.
When I found a verse that I thought was from the Lord, I would write it in my journal. During that time, I filled up two (!) journals with verses and subsequent prayers. I often went back through the journals with a different color of highlighter and I would write the new date in the margin and add, “God, please!”
God did perform a miracle for me. He brought deliverance. And He can do that for you. If an aspect of your life is falling apart, cry out to the One who can get Mary pregnant without a man, who can gather the sea in jars, who can walk on water, and who can rise from the dead.
He hears. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” writes James in James 5:16.
He cares. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:7.
He is able. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20.
Do you see what I was doing every morning during that heavy trial? I was Moving from my Room of Despair into another Room, a Room of Hope. That is how we are to live as Christians, trusting Him, standing on His promises.
May God meet you and comfort you in your severe distress.
One more thing. Let me finish that verse I quoted earlier, John 16:33. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He is definitely able!
Week 1, Day 4
Your Emotions Affect Your Health
Thoughts are things. That’s why laughter is medicine, because laughter releases hormones and chemicals that are healing into your bloodstream. Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV) says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.” Have you ever heard of someone who died of a broken heart? It happens.
Have you read how stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream? If you are a health and wellness reader, again you’ll know this is true (as well as harmful). Doctors and scientists now say stress is a gigantic factor in many illnesses. Be aware that any negative thought you think (such as anger, revenge, hate, envy, etc.) has consequences on your body. Your brain and body are registering what you think about, and are producing and releasing corresponding chemicals and hormones. Your very health is truly at stake.
People often can’t heal their physical illnesses until they heal their bitterness and resentment. Our thoughts affect our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical self. You absolutely cannot afford to have unnecessary, negative thoughts.
I subscribe to the blogs of several health gurus.
I especially love Mercola.com and DrAxe.com. This morning, Josh Axe wrote on how to improve one’s immunity. In his article, he listed items that enhance one’s immune system as well as items that diminish it. His list included the usual activities that you already know decrease one’s immunity: eating or drinking added sugars, overindulging in alcohol, dehydration, etc. A surprising addition to the list was “being in a state of fear/negativity.” Under his list of immune boosters, he again had the usual list you’d suspect (nutrient dense food, exercise, good sleep, etc.) but surprising additions were “meditation and prayer” as well as “gratitude.” Your thoughts matter for many different reasons and your body keeps score with what you think about.
Week 1, Day 5
Handling Your Worries and Fears in the Middle of the Night
Many people wake up in the middle of the night and feel overwhelmed by their discouragement and worries. The part of your brain that is responsible for being logical is slowed during sleep and therefore, you are not thinking with your best game. Worries can slam you as your mind races. You know you need to sleep, but you can’t seem to get away from your troubles. And since the logical part of your brain is not operating at full capacity, your problems loom even larger than during the day.
You can use the foundational principles you have learned in Lesson 1 to help you in the night when you are plagued by worries and fears.
Step one is to listen in on your self-talk and realize what you’re thinking about. In addition, know that your thoughts are especially pounding you because your logical brain is somewhat shut down. The volume of your worries seem to be turned up at night.
Step two, Play Hot Potatoes and Move into Another Room. You want to move into a Room that has no emotional strings attached so your brain can relax and you can go back to sleep. What works for me is to imagine myself walking down steps, much like the steps of a fire escape ladder. Pretend there are 100 steps and every time you step on one, it lights up. (“99”, “98,” “97,” etc.). This forces your brain to think about something that has no emotion attached to it.
This can be difficult because your worries and fears will keep fighting and interrupting your mind while you are counting the descending stairs. You will have trouble playing Hot Potatoes in the night because as I said, your logical brain lobe is partially shut down. But refuse to give in to thinking about your worries. Keep Playing Hot Potatoes and return to counting the stairs. It’s boring, and that’s the point. It allows your mind to relax. This is the same principle as counting sheep. You can only think one thought at a time, so boring thoughts keep you from thinking anxious thoughts.
If your mind is actively racing when you go to bed, this exercise will slow it down. Many times I have counted all the way down to 1 and then had to start over again at 100. You will have to experiment. The idea is that you force yourself to think about something that is completely unemotionally charged (that is, neither positive nor negative because exciting thoughts can keep you up, too.)
In the morning of course, your brain will regain its ability to be logical and you can more easily Play Hot Potatoes and decide to Move into Other Rooms. But remember, in the middle of the night, the goal is to get back to sleep. This technique works. Don’t give in to worries and fears in the night. Refuse to think about them by Moving Into a boring Room, such as counting steps or sheep.
As David wrote in Psalm 63, I too feel like I live in a dry and weary land where there is no water. My disappointments often overwhelm me. My circumstances are definitely not what I had hoped for. Truthfully, I am discouraged beyond what I ever thought I would be.
Day after day, I struggle with my emotions. When will You set me free from this prison? When will You deliver me from my sadness and worries?
Lord, as I go through these Happy School lessons, I ask You in the beautiful name of Jesus, to open the eyes of my understanding. Show me how to escape this heavy fog of discouragement that awakens me in the morning, walks with me throughout the day, and lies down to sleep with me at night. Instead, show me how to live a life of joy, a life of contentment, and one with a happy heart.
Job was downcast; David was depressed; C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther struggled emotionally. I do not have to feel bad for my discouragement as those heroes struggled also. Teach me the secrets to heal and to think correctly. I wait upon You, O God.
In Jesus’ name,
Questions for Group Discussion
- Think about the example in Lesson 1 of Happy School of the dark alley at night. Do you understand that thoughts, not reality, determine your emotions? Do you understand that you are the producer (not the victim) of your emotions? Discuss this counter-intuitive concept with your group.
- Even though you’re a multitasker, do you understand that you are merely switching back-and-forth quickly with your thoughts and that you can only think one thought at a time? Do you see why this is important?
- How good are you at “thinking about your thinking,” that is, at Listening to the Parade that Marches across your Brain?
- Discuss the concept that you can interrupt your thinking by Playing Hot Potatoes and Moving into Another Room in Your Brain, i.e., thinking about something else. Did you previously know that you can choose to Change Rooms? Did you know you can consciously stop thinking one thought by intentionally thinking another?
- What is your reaction to the idea that “thoughts release hormones and chemicals into your bloodstream” and therefore it is unhealthy to have too many negative thoughts and emotions?
- Are you someone who struggles with having your sleep interrupted because of worries or discouragement? What “boring” scenario can you think about to help you get back to sleep?
- Is there depression or major negativity in your family tree? Patterns of thinking can be passed down. We don’t want to criticize those who were doing the best they could at the time, but do you see a need for you to learn a new way to handle discouragement or worry?