Work is Good Therapy

Chapter 82 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan

THERAPY CAN BE EXPENSIVE. Work is cheap - they even pay you for it! When your work is challenging enough to fully compel your attention, but not so challenging it outstrips your ability, you enter The Enjoyment Zone, where your attention is focussed on what you're doing, where you're experiencing the pleasure of being engrossed and engaged in what you're doing, where the petty worries and frustrations that normally plague your mind have no foothold. And whether or not you work in The Enjoyment Zone is up to you, not the job. You can make your job into an enjoyable pursuit. If you want to read more about that, read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's excellent book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

When you can work in that enjoyable state of concentration, you're giving yourself an excellent form of therapy. Work can be therapeutic! It can heal and restore your mind. It can rid you of depression, negative moods, and feelings of helplessness. And it can give you confidence and self-esteem.

One of the things that contributes to negative, unpleasant emotions is rumination: dwelling on thoughts you can do nothing about, running negative and self- defeating thoughts through your head over and over, convincing yourself ever more thoroughly of the validity of your misery. Once these kinds of thoughts get going, they're hard to stop. You feel bad, you think about your situation in a negative way because you feel bad, and then the negative way you're thinking just makes you feel worse. The thoughts aren't doing you any good. The best thing you can do is stop thinking about it, but you can't seem to do that. You're like a train on a track, and there's nowhere to go but down.

Engaging work takes your mind off that track. Like distracting a crying baby with a rattle, your mind gets sent in a new direction.

And while you're working, you're causing an effect. Even moving your fingers on a keyboard causes an effect. Helplessness is a core symptom of depression, contributing to it and often causing it. Productive work proves you are not helpless, so simply doing your work can lessen or even eliminate a bout of depression.


Also, when you work in The Enjoyment Zone, your skills improve. One inevitable consequence of challenging work is an increase in competence and expertise. This gives you confidence and self-esteem - not based merely on the encouraging words of a therapist, but based on real evidence.

Work cannot accomplish everything therapy can, but it can do a great deal of therapeutic good - far more good than leisure (most leisure produces nothing: it doesn't increase skills, competence or self-esteem, and it doesn't engage your mind enough to stop ruminations). Work has, however, been an effective therapy for generations of people. And it can work as well for you.

Get to work - keep it challenging, but not stressful.

Have you been discouraged from pursuing your goal by a parent, a teacher, a well-meaning expert? Check this out:
Sometimes You Shouldn't Listen

Are you pursuing a purpose and sometimes get discouraged when you hit a setback or when it seems difficult? Here is a way to get back your spirit:

Dale Carnegie, who wrote the famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, left a chapter out of his book. Find out what he meant to say but didn't about people you cannot win over:
The Bad Apples

An extremely important thing to keep in mind is that judging people will harm you. Learn here how to prevent yourself from making this all-too-human mistake:
Here Comes the Judge

The art of controlling the meanings you're making is an important skill to master. It will literally determine the quality of your life. Read more about it in:
Master the Art of Making Meaning

Here's a profound and life-changing way to gain the respect and the trust of others:
As Good As Gold

What if you already knew you ought to change and in what way? And what if that insight has made no difference so far? Here's how to make your insights make a difference:
From Hope to Change

next: Work Principles

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 11). Work is Good Therapy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, July 24 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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