Alfred Adler: Fourteen Day Cure Plan
Let's see how thankfulness and service are inter-connected and why both of these are so important.
Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are founding fathers of modern psychology. Freud and Jung are still famous. Adler is less so but I like his approach to life. Late in his career, he wrote a couple of non-technical books for lay persons: Understanding Human Nature and What Life Could Mean To You. In one of these books, Adler remarked that his extensive knowledge of psychology could be summed up in his 'Fourteen Day Cure Plan'. He had devised a 'raam-baan' cure (something that works with 100% guarantee) to all psychological problems! All psychological problems? Isn't that an amazing statement, coming from a giant in psychology with extensive field work?
14-Day Cure Plan:
What is Adler's approach? At the core of Adler's philosophy lies Gemeinschaftsgefuhl which means "social interest" or "communal feeling". An excerpt from the book Positive Discipline (384 pages, 2006) by Jane Nelsen showcases Adler's approach:
Adler claimed he could cure anyone of mental illness in just fourteen days if they would just do what he told them to do. One day a woman who was extremely depressed came to see Adler. He told her, "I can cure you of your depression in just fourteen days if you will follow my advice."
She was not very enthusiastic when she asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Adler replied, "If you will do one thing for someone else every day for fourteen days, at the end of that time your depression will be gone."
She objected. "Why should I do something for someone else, when no one ever does anything for me?"
Adler jokingly responded, "Well, maybe it will take you twenty-one days." He went on to add, "If you can't think of anything you are willing to do for someone else, just think of what you could do if you felt like it." Adler knew that if she would even think about doing something for someone else, she would be on her way toward improvement.
Alfred Adler is basically suggesting "seva" or "service to others". In Eastern traditions, this helps in "dissolution of I". What Adler is pointing out is that when the "I" becomes strong, we run into major psychological problems. A conversation with Archana Jajodia was along the same lines. She is one of my Computer Science classmates from IIT Delhi. She switched to Psychology and is presently an Assistant Clinical Professor at UC San Diego. A few years ago, I had asked her, "What have you learnt from thousands of hours of listening to people in distress?" Archana's second sentence was something like, "The people with the maximum problems are those who are the most selfish."
The snippet from Jane Nelsen's book above is worth re-reading and analyzing in detail.
Note the statement by the depressed woman: "Why should I do something for someone else, when no one ever does anything for me?" It gives us insight into the woman's thought process. She has become an island, disconnected from society. She feels that nobody does anything for her. She does not feel like doing anything for anybody else. An antidote for her is to start maintaining a thankfulness journal where she identifies and expresses gratitude for something unique every day. After some time, maybe a month or two, she is likely to realize that innumerable individuals are doing things for her. Then a feeling of indebtedness is likely to arise, motivating her to invest time in social service.