Welcome everyone! Today’s topic may be a little difficult, we may get a little lost in the weeds together. But I believe it’s because there is new and exciting ground to break, so I thank all of you who are willing to go with me on this journey.

On the Harvard Grant Study—perhaps the single greatest study on the human condition, which followed a large group of Harvard-educated men for more than 75 years—Dr. George Vailant writes that there appear to be two factors which, more than any others, predict a person’s health, success, and happiness as they mature. The first is love. The second is habits of dealing with life which do not inhibit love. My feelings on the first are long-established, but I think this second is fertile ground for discussion.

Pain demands a response. When pain and chaos enter our lives, whether in the form of a major upheaval or a totally ordinary setback, how do we react? Of course, some answers are nakedly self-destructive. Alcoholism, just to give an obvious example. But it occurs to me that there are any number of less overtly “bad” habits which still fall short of ideal. In fact, habits which are not obviously harmful can be much harder to get rid of, because we often start to identify with them as an essential part of ourselves. Hopefully some of you remember our post on identity from a few weeks ago, where I gave “exercise” as an example of this precise thing in my own life.

Which leads us naturally to an interesting question: what exactly is an “ideal” response to the pain and stresses of life? It’s a big question to answer, and we cannot be too detailed. Circumstances and individual callings vary too widely. But perhaps we can approach an ideal “attitude” toward life habits.

Oh, and we won’t be relying on willpower. Willpower is a limited resource which we can use to shape our lives, but habits are largely the things that occupy us “the rest of the time,” when willpower rests. A support system for willpower, by definition, cannot rely on willpower.

In fact, if I may take this thought a little further: too often, people think that being strong or even “good” means unfailing willpower, and having the ability to keep on grinding, come heck or high water. But all of our lives move in cycles of work and rest, tension and release. Speaking as someone who endured a fairly conservative religious upbringing, there is an attitude which such communities tend to develop that only the highest moral service can be “good,” and all else must therefore be a failing of sorts.

But people can’t walk on will forever, and what’s more, on some level I think they know it. So the eventual release of tension becomes a “break” instead of a relaxation, and unhealthy habits are formed.

Violating the conscience also causes physiological stress, as does the violation of personally held beliefs. One of our goals, then, becomes clear: to cope with pain means to seek a healthy, truth-based view of not only pain, but pleasure as well. We must remember that work cannot exist without rest, and that the two are meant to complement one another.

Have a blessed, wonderful day!

Dr. Alex Loyd



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