Sometimes it seems as though my life is a balance scale – positive things pile up in one basket, negative in the other. When the positive outweighs the negative I am high, but when the negative is heavier I come crashing down. At times life tips so much flaming garbage into the negative basket that it’s hard to imagine ever being up again. Death, grief, trauma, illness, conflict – they can all conspire against us from time to time, and it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed.
At which point what can you do but wallow in how life has mistreated you? It all seems too hard. You either have enough happiness to balance the scale and lift you up or you don’t. It’s outside your control, right?
Well, actually, no. We have the power to choose what’s in those baskets. Not totally, of course. You can’t always throw the negative stuff out. Some of it is inescapable, and ongoing. That weight does drag us down. The overall balance, though, is something we can influence. If we spend our time inspecting the contents of the negative basket in excruciating detail – focusing on everything that’s wrong with our lives and how miserable it’s all making us – we can actually wind up making them heavier.
The good news is that we can also make the positive basket weigh more, by choosing to put the good stuff back in. Get a positive email from your boss? Save it, print it out, maybe even frame it. Got a birthday card that makes you smile? Put it somewhere you can see it every day, and keep it there regardless of how long ago your birthday was. Feeling good about how much you’ve achieved today? Take the time to appreciate what you’ve done. Created something beautiful lately? Solved a tricky problem? Done something you’ve been postponing for months? Share it with a friend who will appreciate what you have accomplished.
The positive basket fills up quickly with help from others. One of the fastest ways is to do something to help someone else, even something simple like taking chocolate to a work mate who is having a bad day, or giving a flower to someone you see on your morning walk. You’ll make them happier, and they’ll very likely smile at you, or even hug you, which will weight the positive basket nicely.
Direct, real-life contact with people is more effective than the online variety. We are programmed to mirror the feelings we see in front of us – it’s very hard not to smile when someone smiles at you, and physical contact provides endorphins and oxytocin to give us a boost. Even a simple handshake is worth more than a comment on your status update on facebook, and a high five is a priceless mood-booster.
Simple rituals can help, too. Even something as basic as finding three things you are thankful for every morning (check out the Thankful Thing), or looking in the mirror and saying three things you like about yourself. These things feel forced at first, but like a forced smile, they trigger a positive response whether we want them to or not.
It’s really easy to throw away the good bits of life and cling to the trauma. There are times when it’s almost unavoidable. But we need to remember that there are always good things around, if we only take the time to notice them. When my Dad died I was overwhelmed by the love and support shown by my friends and work mates. It’s been a tough time, but I have a strong sense of community that I didn’t have beforehand. I don’t want to get all Pollyanna on you and argue that every cloud has a silver lining. Some clouds are toxic all the way through. But there is always sunshine somewhere. We just have to remember to see it.
* this post was partly inspired by this. Check it out.