Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Mood Follows Action

What is Morita Therapy?

A reader writes asking if I knew about Japanese Morita Therapy.  It is an interesting therapy or philosophy and touches on a lot of what I have learned writing this blog - that doing things is better than owning things, that thinking logically is better than thinking emotionally, and that doing things helps stave off learned helplessness.  From Wikipedia:
Morita proposed that human motivation was influenced by two opposing drives; a desire to live fully (self-actualize), and a desire to maintain security and comfort. He noted that these two drives were often in opposition. To the extent that a person pursues their most valued goals (relationships, education, parenting, career building, etc) they often experience discomfort and insecurity (anxiety, self-doubt, financial or personal risk, etc.). Morita observed that the more people attempt to avoid or suppress feelings of insecurity the more it disrupts their ability to function. Furthermore, their attention becomes increasingly fixated on erroneous efforts to escape unwanted feelings, resulting in the paradoxical effect of enhancing the frequency and intensity of the very experiences they are trying to avoid. Over time this results in increasing intolerance of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and body sensations; an escalating mental obsession with and related enhancement of unwanted experience; and a decline in a person’s ability to take purposeful actions.

The goal of Morita Therapy is arugamama (acceptance of life as it is). Very often, humans experience dissatisfaction with life as it is in comparison to life as they can imagine it should be. We fall short of our own expectations, or feel frustrated with people who are not as patient, kind, or helpful as we believe they could be. Our mind has made a judgment; life is not the way that it should be. The natural result is that we strive to make life more closely match our ideal.
This sounds a lot like one of the "Ten Irrational Ideas" or my mantra, "Life is not an optimized event."  People bemoan how inefficient and wicked humans are - and how awful things are (awfulizing).  Unless Bernie is elected, why bother trying? (externalizing - pining for social change to solve their personal problems).   People are willing to destroy our country, not because it is rotten, but because it doesn't measure up to this ideal of theirs.

Yea, I think I understand where Morita is coming from.

And with regard to mood, Morita teaches letting action dictate mood, rather than vice-versa.  People get depressed, in part, because they are inactive.  Once depressed, they lay in bed all day long, which in turn, leads to more depression.  Doing something staves off depression and learned helplessness.

In one clinical trial, they attempted to use this therapy to treat depression, with some good results:
Morita Therapy seeks to reorientate patients in the natural world and potentiate their natural healing capacity. Morita therapists thus help patients to move away from symptom preoccupation and combat, which are considered to exacerbate symptoms and interfere with this natural recovery process. By helping patients to accept symptoms as natural phenomena which ebb and flow as a matter of course, Morita Therapy is in sharp contrast to the focus of established Western approaches on symptom reduction and control. In Morita Therapy, patients are taught to live with, rather than be without, their symptoms.
Bingo! This is what I have been saying all along - that traditional psychology and psychiatry in America and the West have been throwing gasoline on the fire of mental illness.  The mentally ill people I have known (family members, friends, lovers) all fell into the same trap.  They were encouraged to examine their feelings and think about them a lot - to "get in touch" with their emotions.  As I noted before, emotions are like farts - they come and go and are based more on what you ate than anything else.

If you have low-blood sugar or are dehydrated (or both) your brain will go berserk. You will act "crazy" - either angry or sad for apparently no reason.  Is this some deep emotion you need to analyze?  Or maybe you just need a snack and a glass of water.

It's OK to be sad on occasion - emotions come and go like the wind.  They are an electrical storm in your brain - not some deep inner meaning into your psyche.  Introspection rarely yields positive results, just more naval-gazing and depression.

On the other hand, getting up out of bed and doing things will make you happy and productive - and feel empowered.  Plus, you will have less time to dwell on how "rotten" things are.

Mood follows action, not vice-versa.  Or maybe put more succinctly, "get up off your ass and do something!"