We have just enjoyed Thanksgiving and are fully in the holiday season. What is your heart full of this holiday season? Gratitude? Struggle? Somewhere in between? Our attitude informs a great deal about our quality of life. It has been my experience that a positive attitude releases positive energy, which helps us to engage in life in more positive ways.
I once had a good friend ask me, with more than a little exasperation, “How in the world do you find the silver lining in everything?!” My response, “Because I find creating positive energy in my life is much better than creating negative energy.” Is it that simple? No, but it does sum up the motivation. As I like to say, “It’s not complex, just difficult.”
All of us have events or a series of events in life that challenge us. Some events, like when our children are struggling or we lose a loved one, have the power to suck the life out of us. Others are more manageable, based on how we have trained ourselves to react. Whether the event is catastrophic or more manageable, we are offered a choice of how we respond. Sometimes, in the moment, our initial reaction is, “Oh my, this _______ is awful.” After we have had a moment to reflect, however, we can sometimes tell our self that it won’t be as bad as we first thought.
We are often offered numerous moments during the day to decide how we will react/respond to something that has occurred. I invite you to consider what you might receive from a more positive response.
I consider at the core of our quality of life is the ability to have ‘spirit’, ‘countenance’, or a ‘demeanor’ of gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. The benefits are:
- Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being.
- Greater optimism and happiness
- Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises
- Increased self-esteem
- Heightened energy levels
- Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure
- Improved emotional and academic intelligence
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness
- Decreased stress, anxiety, depression, and headaches
- Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
- Heightened spirituality — ability to see something bigger than ourselves
Whether it is part of our ‘flight or fight’ mechanism, or something else, our brain tends to remember the negative longer than the positive. Psychologist Rick Hanson refers to this as, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.” As a result, we have to find ways to minimize the effects of the negative experiences and deepen the effects of the positive experiences. How we go about building better ‘thought’ habits around the positive is important.
These are a handful of rituals that have helped me center myself better, and create greater balance between the positive and negative in my life and brain.
- Take some quiet time once or twice each day to think about what you are grateful for; it works best if you write it down.
- Work with whatever comes into your mind first. Expand on it. Is there a story that you could tell? Savor it before moving on. I find that keeping a journal is a good way to create a record of your ‘gratitude journey’ for later reference.
- When difficult news shows up, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you will be able to deal with whatever comes along.
- Connect with someone with whom you can share your moments of gratitude and share the burden of those difficult moments. A reciprocal relationship is best.
- During times of more difficult struggles, set a limit for how long you will remain in a ‘funk’. That doesn’t mean you have cured the problem; you are no longer willing to let it control your mood and your life full-time. For me, that timeframe is 48 hours. At the end of that time, I will say that I am doing “great!” That doesn’t mean I am, but I am changing the energy within me by making that positive statement. In many ways I am “faking it until I make it.” It has worked for me for 40 years, through all types of loss, illness, divorce, and other difficult situations in my life.
Gratitude seems to go hand in hand with grace. I like the way psychologist Dr. Randy Kamen refers to grace. “Grace is the ability to accept the pain and challenges of life while appreciating its beauty and joy.” I have found that the ability to receive and extend grace put me in a much more positive frame of mind.
I want to share with you one final story, which illustrates my evolution of positive thinking. For much of my life, when it came to situations that caused me physical or emotional pain, I wanted to get to the other side as quickly as possible. Over time, I began to create a subtle, but important, shift – the willingness to ‘sit’ with the pain of those moments for as long as it took, to take what value there was from those moments. Were they fun? No. But what I did notice was I was more relaxed in those moments, knowing that I would be okay and that I would likely gain some insight that would enrich my life. In the moment of acceptance came greater ability to deal with whatever it was. Ah, the beauty of age.
When we are working with our attitude, it is helpful to be aware of what negativity we are allowing in that is influencing our thoughts and behavior. Creating a posture of gratitude has allowed me to go through each day recognizing, with greater frequency, the really cool things and people who are in and around my life.
To a better you…