Mastering the Blues
(J.R. Miller, "Intimate Letters on Personal Problems" 1914)
Do you know that all of life is a bundle of habits? We form habits of doing this or that, and after a while the habit becomes fixed. I read of a stagecoach driver who had been holding his lines so long, that his hands were bent like hooks and could not be straightened out. If you hold your eyes in a certain position — looking always the same way — day after day, year after year, it will not be very long before you will look always in that way, and cannot really look any other way. The same is true of your thoughts. If you allow your thoughts to run along certain lines, dark lines, a month, a year, two years, by that time you will have worn a track like that which a wheel makes in the road, and you cannot get your thoughts to go in any other way.
You have been allowing your mind to run for a good while along sad lines — lines of depression and discouragement. You have been thinking you were sick, or had this trouble or that trouble. So long have your thoughts been running along these channels, that now they have washed a track for themselves, and it is almost impossible for you to get them out of that track!
Now I want you to be brave enough to undertake a pretty serious piece of work. You have got to change the direction of your thoughts, your feelings, your moods, your words. If they are allowed to run as you have been letting them run for a good while — you will always be a gloomy sort of person, without any enthusiasm, with poor health, or at least health which you imagine to be poor. For our imagination, just like our thoughts, forms grooves and runs in them.
What I want you to do, is to begin the minute you read this letter — to tear your thoughts away from these dark lines, these gloomy tangles, these hopeless things, and get them to going in the bright ways, happy ways, into rippling song and cheery laughter. It is not hard to do this for one minute when somebody is talking to you. You know very well, too, at that time that the thing you are doing that moment is just what you ought to do all the time. What I want you to undertake to do is to say that you will persistently and unalterably turn away from everything dark and gloomy and cheerless for, we will say, a few months, to begin with. That is, till the first of next October, you are going to turn yourself into new channels altogether. You are going to turn your eyes toward the hills, the blue skies, and refuse ever to let them drop again to the ground. You are going to keep your thoughts up — not thinking once about yourself, not allowing yourself to brood for one minute about some illness you had, or think you had, yesterday, or last month. You are going to resolve that you will not allow yourself to speak a single discouraging or cheerless or pessimistic word — but are going to talk only brightly, cheerfully, bravely, happily.
I want to give you a bit of experience of my own. When I was a young fellow I was in the habit of being moody and easily discouraged and depressed. I was always imagining I was sick. I thought I had consumption or liver trouble or lung trouble — or some other one of a thousand diseases. At least I was always acting like a baby in those matters.
One day I woke up, got wide awake, and saw that I was simply making a fool of myself. I saw perfectly well in the vision of good sense which came to me that day, that if I went on as I had been doing — I never would be of any use in the world, would make nothing of my life, would be a most unpleasant fellow among other people.
Then and there I settled it, that this must not go on a single day longer. I resolved that I would undertake to master myself and turn all the tides of my life in other directions — wholesome directions. I resolved that I would never get discouraged, no matter what might happen, that I would not allow myself to say a disheartening word or let a single discouraging thought into my mind. I resolved that I would put away all gloomy imaginings concerning diseases in myself. In a word, I would look up — not down, out — not in, forward — and not back, and begin to lend a hand to everybody anywhere about me.
I had a long and very hard fight. Every little while I would feel myself drifting back again into the old miserable way of thinking about myself, of imagining I was sick, and getting blue and depressed. But I would wake up again and shake off the feelings, determined never to be conquered. The result was, to put it as briefly as possible, that in two or three years I had so completely mastered myself, that I never for a moment allowed anything to discourage me or to make me feel blue or disheartened. When I did not succeed in doing what I wanted to do, I tried again.
For a good many years now I think I have mastered the habit so well that I am optimistic in everything about myself and everybody else. I think I have learned to live along the lines of the best possible help. Of course things get tangled sometimes in my work and affairs — but I do not allow myself to fret over it, knowing that all will come right, if I do my part. People come to me with their burdens and perplexities and their sorrows. Sometimes it is a terrible tangle which they bring to me — but I never let myself get frightened at any number of perplexities or trials. My mission is to get these people right again.
I have told you this about myself. I never have written this out for anybody before. But it is a real chapter in my life, which you see, I think, meant a good deal to me.
You have just the same chance that I had. You can let your life drift along in the old lines, if you desire to do so — but you know what the end will be. Or, a thousand times better, you can do as I did, you can turn your eyes away and lift up your heart and your voice — and shut the doors forever on discouragement of every kind, put away all thought of ill health or anything else of the kind, and go forward to splendid health, to Christ-like living, to achievement worth while.