By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
So much to do, so little time. You check off things on your to-do list (or, if you’re like me, your many lists) – and move on to the new issues at hand. While this approach to your day might help you efficiently accomplish your goals, an unanticipated consequence is that it can leave you forever staring at, and thinking about, all the things you have yet to do. And this can make you feel empty and overwhelmed. So, it’s an important practice to also build into your day a way to reflect on the successes and joys. Fortunately, Thanksgiving serves as a wonderful reminder to do this.
To help train yourself to appreciate – and be thankful for – the positive, make a daily effort to do three things:
Pay attention to the good stuff: It’s too easy to be governed by thinking, “Now that I’ve got this done, I need to…” It’s also too easy to not think about all the blessings in your life – you know, your job or loved ones or home or the free country you live in… (For instance, right now you might find yourself thinking about the things you don’t have or how what you do have is inadequate.)
Instead, consciously think about your positive qualities, accomplishments, and the blessings in your life. Challenge yourself to view life from a more positive perspective. If you tend to struggle with being shy or introverted, focus on how you are a loyal and devoted friend and how you are wonderfully creative or committed to a healthy lifestyle. At your job, you might notice how helpful you tend to be to others, or how you excel in certain areas.
Reflect on the good stuff: To become a naturally more appreciative person, you need to remember the things that feel good. So, think back over the past day, week, or month and replay those situations that made you happy or feel positive (e.g. proud, thankful).
You might even help your memory along by keeping a daily gratitude journal in which you briefly remind yourself of the good stuff in your life. If you keep it specific, you can repeat the same topics and still keep them fresh. For instance, you can address how your children made you happy by writing, “It made me feel good to see how sweetly the girls played together today.” Then the next day you might write, “I felt so loved and blessed when Suzie said she loved me and gave me a big hug this morning.”
Interpret experiences as part of the good stuff in life: If you tend to be a bit of an Eeyore and see the dark side of everything, then you would do yourself a favor by practicing a bit of positive thinking. It won’t help to flat out deny problems, but maintaining perspective can be extremely helpful. For instance, you will not be happy that the love of your life just dumped you. However, you can still appreciate that you have good friends who are there to support you; or that you have a career that you love. And, with a little time, you might even acknowledge to yourself that he or she wasn’t such a great catch after all.
By approaching Thanksgiving – and every day – with these three guidelines, you will find that you are more thankful. And this will make you – and the people around you – happier.
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