Thursday, October 25, 2012

Savoring the good stuff

Okay.  I confess.  I'm not always good at this, but I have been called a Pollyanna more than a few times in my life. It doesn't mean I don't feel the bad stuff -- my husband will happily tell you that I carry a fair amount of baggage and it ignites pretty easily.

But it doesn't take long for my internal optimist to start putting out those fires with a "Yes, but..."  As in, "Yes, this thing that happened really sucks, but look at all the blessings in my life!"

The unfortunate aspect of this is that I can find it difficult to air my problems, because -- however stressful they are for me -- they start to look pretty small when I compare them to the things others struggle with.  But the good news is that it keeps me fairly resilient.

So I was encouraged to read in Goldie Hawn's book, 10 Mindful Minutes, that this ability to bounce back from troubles can actually be taught.  In a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction, Shauna Shapiro discovered that people taught to practice mindful optimism three times a day were able to significantly reduce anxiety and depression while improving self-esteem and sleep quality.

This is great news -- that optimism can be learned.  In his research on depression, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania proved that teaching 10-year-olds the skills of optimistic thinking "cut in half their chances of becoming depressed while going through puberty."

So how do we become more optimistic? It helps to understand that "When something bad happens, pessimists tell themselves the three P's:

• They introduce the personal by saying, "It's all my fault."
• They bring on the permanent by thinking, "It's always like this."
• They add the pervasive with thoughts like, "Everything is terrible."

Optimists tell themselves the opposite: They start with the impersonal, thinking, "Things I have no control over are to blame."  They consider the impermanent -- "I'm going through a hard time, but I know it will get better.  Sometimes things are hard." And finally, they settle on the specific -- "This particular thing is hard for me, but the rest of my life is still good."

The challenge, of course, can be understanding that the rest of life is good.  But I think the way we come to that is to savor the good stuff, to be attentive to the joys of life: to appreciate music, the sounds of children laughing and birds singing; to savor the scents of cooking, and Christmas, of candles and fresh air; to take time when eating to enjoy the many flavors on your tongue; to drink in the phenomenal beauty of the world around us and the faces we pass on the street; to bask in the sunshine or revel in the crisp air of autumn, the feel of a beloved fuzzy sweater, the touch of a loved one...

It's all good.  Only sometimes it's not.  But that's okay, too.  Just remember: this, too, shall pass...


Anonymous said...

Yeah but first, I think, you gotta.own the feeling of disappointment or the temporary downer, then you can move on to the shiny bright outlook.
Just say in'

Diane Walker said...

Absolutely true. You need to lean into the tough stuff and feel it before you can let it go...