The check-list reads pretty smoothly: Good job, healthy kids, supportive spouse, fun weekend plans. On paper we feel that we should be “happy” and yet, our internal environment can feel quite the opposite. Of course there are real physiological reasons for depression, anxiety and sadness, but many people carry transient or chronic feelings of malaise, despite chemical and hormonal balance.
Have you ever heard yourself saying “I would be happy if only I had more… (time, money, friends)” or “I can start living my life again as soon as I achieve my… (weight loss, project completion, house remodel)?” Well, the reality is that most of the time you have no greater chance of being happier in the next moment than you are in this one if you are relying on an outside source to cure your ails. We tend to adapt pretty darn quickly to windfalls and goals achieved, just to find ourselves resetting the standard for our future happiness. (For an inspiring Ted Talk on this phenomena check out Shawn Achor’s talk on happiness).
The science of Positive Psychology, pioneered by Dr. Martin Seligman shows hope for us. This exciting movement teaches that we don’t have to strive for happiness through processing our past through therapy or distracting our brain through a variety of activities. Positive psychology recommends focusing intently on what is right and positive in our lives and then connecting deeply with our gratitude for these things. Through the simple act of focusing on positive aspects of our life and gratitude, we can actually rewire the way our brain perceives a situation. We are talking about reworking our brain pathways with daily training and perspective change. It’s not just putting on a pair of rose-colored glasses, it is hard wiring your response system.
The research on positive psychology excites me, for it’s easy to apply and quickly effective. An exercise that Seligman says is quite dramatic for people is called “Three Blessings.” He has found that if you do this exercise daily for even one week, you depression can start to lift and people will experience more joy. Over time you will see the world differently, without effort. The exercise goes like this: nightly, write down three things that went right or were positive in your day and then write down why it happened. So, if your “good thing” was “ I got all of my work completed today at my job”, the reason may be “because I stayed really focused.” Or, if your wife brought you home a cookie you may say “because she knows I love cookies.” However big or small your morsel of positivity is, find a meaning for it and write it down. I have patients that had great results with a simplified exercise of writing down a few things they are grateful for each night in their gratitude journal. Personally, when I feel I am sliding into despair or grumpiness, I force myself to spend one full minute focusing on things to be grateful for, which invariably includes the big things like my healthy children and having all my basic needs met as well as the simple wonders around (colors of the fall leaves, birds chirping etc.). I start the exercise begrudgingly and literally in one minute, I feel some of the weight lifting. Perspective is a great healer.
So in this season of giving thanks, I recommend that we take daily stock of all the things in our life that are right, positive and deserve our heart-felt gratitude. It may seem hard at first, but blessings truly do abound (if you are reading this post, on a computer, in safety… there are three things to be grateful for right there). Read Dr. Seligman’s book Flourish and check out his great website authentichappiness.com for more inspiration.
With gratitude for all of our wonderful patients and the honor of serving our community,
All the providers at Nature Cures Clinic