We've all heard the phrase that "happiness is a state of mind."
Most of us can buy into this theory until we start to absorb the daily news and the sad personal news of our friends and family. On top of this, we can feel pressured by holiday shopping stress, money problems, career pressures, and the need to clean our homes.
"For every positive thought I can dream up, I can think of ten negative things to ponder on," says a friend of ours we'll call Carly. Carly admits she's fought depression for the last two years.
But these days, she's using a new tactic to stay happy. How? She makes a lot of effort to focus on what she has to be thankful for. She makes a conscious effort to spend time defining everything that falls into this category.
"For example," says Carly, "I recently decided to be thankful for all of my relatives, both good and bad. The reasoning behind this kind of thankfulness is that the challenging relatives teach us a lot. Their trials and tragedies provide our education about what not to do."
Carly told us she's taking this a step further. She's decided to be thankful for every single person she's ever known. Why? Because she believes we cannot grow and develop without the challenges people throw our way. No one develops and becomes who they are supposed to be by living in a magic bubble.
"Picture your life as a movie," Carly says, "the dark characters create the drama that forces you to grow. The tough times and challenges build your character and your confidence. With no pressure, we'd all still be like babies."
When we spend time counting our blessings, this helps program our brain for feeling happy and upbeat. Here's why that happens:
-- We have to think about why something feels good. For instance, state reasons to be thankful for the home you have now. Maybe it's just a basic apartment, but it's allowing you to save up a down payment on a condo. Or, maybe your home is near two of your good friends.
-- We can claim many great feelings we'd otherwise ignore. One woman we know recently recovered from a stroke. She now thinks about how great it is to watch TV and manage a shower without assistance. She takes nothing for granted.
-- We feel luckier if we have a lot to feel thankful for. Otherwise, we'll compare ourselves to others and feel cheated. By counting every small thing, from having enough food to eat to having a drivable car, your gratitude will signal your brain that life is okay.
An associate of ours once moved out of a flood zone after he lost everything in a major storm. We'll call him Austin. He had no flood insurance, and his job was destroyed when his business building collapsed while he was in it.
"I honestly had only one control measure to cope," Austin told us. "I could focus on what I still had left -- my wife, two great brothers, and lots of friends. The survival tools and happiness factors were in my own brain. I learned I could think myself happy by counting my blessings constantly."
Austin adds, "I invest time each day expanding the list. I get a flow of energy from doing this. I know I can build a new life, there's no question."
(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)
(c)2017 Person to Person
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