I once attended a training where the speaker asked those present to participate in an exercise. We were to break up into pairs and tell each other about our week, highlighting the negative parts.
The sounds around the room were somber and quiet. Then she asked us to go back and tell each other about the same week, this time highlighting the positive. The room emanated with smiles and occasional laughter.
She asked us to share how each experience made us feel. One thing we all agreed on was that sharing both aspects of our week in separate formats gave us a chance to shift our perspective.
There are some things in life that do not change, such as the loss of a loved one. Other life issues have potential for change with no guarantee. They include negative patterns and experiences that one may have wrestled with for years with no success. Sometimes these events overwhelm us and strip us of happiness in life. We become lost in pain.
The good news is that joy is possible even if nothing changes.
I woke up recently on the wrong side of the bed. I’d had two days of bad hair, and a third seemed unavoidable. I rehearsed a couple of recent disappointments. I focused on several insecurities and failures. I did not want to leave the house. Suddenly I was given the insight to thank God for my life. I began to list aspects of it that were lovely, fun, exciting and comforting. I felt a surge of joy. I got up from the bed and paced my house for several minutes, amazed at the change in my attitude.
I have known that focusing on positives and having a grateful heart helped, but had so rarely put into practice. Throughout the day, I had to return to the list several times when the more negative ones threatened to creep back in. On proponent of positive psychology suggests writing three positives about one’s day every evening. One sentence can always be, “Today I was alive.” That one exercise gradually intensified his own satisfaction with life.
I’ve decided that life is like a constant list of pros and cons. In order to have the energy to deal with the cons, we had to keep our minds focused on the pros. We should live there and imagine ourselves only visiting the cons side. We may have to go there to deal with a specific problem, grieve a tragedy, or even to vent, but then we should travel home emotionally.
“Much recent data show that people fare reasonably well in a variety of tragic and traumatic circumstances,” says Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness.” Paraplegics are generally quite happy people. And blind people often say that the worst problem they have is that everyone assumes that they are sad.
People do feel devastated if they go blind, but it does not last. The human mind is constituted to make the best of the situations in which it finds itself.
Spirituality has known this through the ages, with wisdom such as “those things which are lovely and of good report. Give thanks in everything.”
This is also the hallmark of positive psychology and cognitive therapy, teaching us that reality changes when our perspective shifts, not the other way around.
We can feel better now, if we believe it and choose it daily.