"I'm actually very pleased that Joe broke off our relationship. " None of Elaine's friends believed her. It was evident to them that she was really very hurt and puzzled by Joe's behavior. By rationalizing, instead of facing the truth, Elaine was preventing herself from learning how to stop repeating the same mistakes.

In our previous posting, we pointed out that thinking is a critically important link in the chain of events that joins together external situations and our emotional responses to them. Remember, events don't make us mad, sad, glad, or scared; rather it's our interpretations of the events that lead us to feel mad, sad, glad, or scared.

There are three basic ways of thinking. We can think rationally, irrationally, or we can rationalize.

Rational thinking is based more on objective fact than subjective opinion. It assists us in survival, helps us in achieving goals, and promotes emotional well-being and relationship success.

Irrational thinking is not based on reason or objectivity - it tends to undermine emotional well-being, often leads to unnecessary conflict, and at times even threatens survival.

Rationalization is basically a con job - an attempt to explain away actions or choices with seemingly valid, but actually bogus, justifications.

Although not as unhealthy as pure irrationality, rationalization is no friend of mental health either.

• Clearly, the healthiest type of thinking is rational thinking.

Unlike irrational beliefs that are almost always based on demanding shoulds and musts, or what are called "categorical imperatives," rational thought is based on preferences, acceptance, and tolerance.

The bottom line is simple. If you want to make yourself happier and promote better relationships,

• try to eliminate the shoulds and musts from your thoughts

and replace them with more balanced rational self-talk. Instead of saying, "I must do X and I must have Y," say, and really mean, "I'd very much prefer doing X and having Y, but I don't absolutely have to do or get anything."

Please keep in mind that rational thinking doesn't mean unemotional living! On the contrary.

• Replacing irrational beliefs with rational ones simply reduces negative emotions and simultaneously increases positive feelings.

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

P.S. Check out some of our previous postings to gain a greater understanding of these ideas.

Remember: Think Well, act well, feel well, be well!

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