Posts Tagged ‘optimism’

Duane

August 3rd, 2012

My father-in-law, Duane Bryers, passed away recently—weeks short of his 101st birthday. We held a memorial at his Tucson home for family and close friends. For me, Duane personified resilience and the benefits of a positive attitude.

As a psychiatrist, I have spent much of my career studying depression and treating people who suffer from it. I understand the concept of CBT, as it encourages depressed people to reconceptualize their views of themselves, the world, and their futures. In recent decades, scientists in a range of biological disciplines have advanced concepts of resilience, reframing a problem like depression from a dichotomy of normal versus pathological to a spectrum, in which some people are predisposed to dark and negative thoughts and emotions, while others see the proverbial glass as half full or more.

Duane always looked on the bright side of everything. He made his own luck. His positive attitude was infectious. The greatest blow I ever saw him take was the loss of his beloved wife of 30 years. Dee was younger, and we assumed he would precede her. But when she left him alone, he grieved, then moved forward by initiating a new phase of life in his 90s—buying a new house and new furniture. A very gifted artist, Duane spent hours every day at his easel. Until a few years ago, he continued to create beautiful new paintings and sell them for serious money.

In time, neuroscience will shed light on the biological and experiential bases that allow some people to innately see the positive and embrace a can-do attitude, while others are easily daunted and discouraged. Sometimes, when a bad event challenges me, I think of Duane and his smile.

-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry

Resilience

July 8th, 2011

A few days ago my father-in-law celebrated his 100th birthday. Someday a lot of people may reach that milestone, but today few do. What impresses me is not that he made it (a testimony to his genes more than his less-than-healthy lifestyle), nor that he remains cognitively sharp. What impresses me is his amazing positive attitude. Almost always, he is “up.” He sees opportunities, even at his age. He finds reasons to laugh, celebrate, get excited.

Duane grieved deeply when his wife died. But he rebounded, set a new course (he was 90), and move forward. At his 100th birthday party, he entertained four generations of family members with witticisms that could be on his gravestone.

Presumably by the luck of the genetic “draw,” some of us run on the depressive end of a mood spectrum: seeing the dark and ominous side of every development, the glass half empty. Others, like my father-in-law, see what’s possible, visualize the positive, and make it happen. I just read a book by Dean Karnazes, who embodies this grab-life-by-the-horns approach and inspires others.

Good parents help their more anxious, depression-prone kids to modulate their darker thoughts and world view. They move these young people further to the optimistic, resilient end of the mood spectrum. Truly, it’s not immutable. People can learn to see the good possibilities. CBT and most therapies try to help in that vein.

I think my centenarian father-in-law inherited good genes. But he also made conscious choices over his long life, and he benefited from many of them and achieved joy and a sense of purpose.

-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry