News about the economy, the pandemic, and the bitter political stage can increase our anxiety. However, when we reflect on times in our lives and history that have brought about growth or given a new perspective, it is often the most difficult challenges that move us forward. In month nine of this pandemic crisis, it is difficult on some days to look for the good. I use music to inspire me. I love to dance, clean, walk, cry, and sing with it (even when I don’t know the lyrics)! Music plays along to my memories and it helps me face each day with positivity.
“Positive psychology is not about denying difficult emotions. It’s about opening to what is happening here and now, and cultivating and savoring the good in your life,” says Ron Siegel, Doctor of Psychology and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Learning strategies of positive psychology and modeling them for your children can help your whole family.
Count Your Blessings
Developing an appreciation for each blessing, even the small stuff, can help one notice the positive aspects of life even during a painful struggle or loss. My parents came from Arizona for a two-week visit in September. My mother took a fall, shattered her femur, had emergency surgery, and stayed in a short-term rehab center. She and my dad are living with our family at least until January as she recovers.
COVID-19 made her health emergency all the more difficult as we could not be present with one another. However, each day, even when my mother needed blood and went to the ICU or felt anxious in the nursing facility, my parents inspired me with their courage and positivity. My mother has always taught us the mindset that things could always be worse and to see the bright side. My father, her constant cheerleader for 57 years, also views life this way and counts every blessing.
My parents continue to model positivity for me even as an adult and I suppose this is why I feel good fortune in the midst of this challenging situation. I am grateful to be with them instead of many states apart. I am thankful that I can make them meals, transport them to appointments, laugh and cry together, and support them both as my mother recovers. Evidence suggests that positive psychology techniques are valuable tools during grief and times of stress. Learning and using these tools can help build resilience to handle tough times.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Before my mother left Harborview Medical Center to move to rehab, she insisted on writing a comment card. She had kept a list of every wonderful cleaner, certified nursing assistant, nurse, doctor, and transport worker. She wanted the leadership of the hospital to know how grateful she was for her care despite wishing that her fracture had never happened. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. The brain is wired to assess things that go wrong, but by keeping track of the positives the brain can be more cognizant of what goes right. To practice, think of past experiences (pull in memories of times of your childhood for which you are thankful) or focus on the future (what are you hopeful will come to fruition).
Mind Your Mind
Learning to live more in the present is especially helpful when the future is uncertain. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.” For me, taking time for mindfulness is important but often placed on the back burner. I have found breathing to be a wonderful step that I can do anywhere. Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, gives these steps:
- Begin by emptying your lungs.
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale firmly through your mouth, pursing the lips, for eight seconds
- You may repeat this breathing cycle up to four times.
Practicing this simple breathing exercise can completely shift your focus and your state of mind.
Being kind truly is contagious. Complimenting the mask worn by someone you see at the store or making your loved one a cup of tea brings a smile to their face and feels good to you, too. Research shows that people who give of their time tend to be happier. Those who take time to give a charitable donation also feel a boost. It’s important to be kind to yourself, too. Taking ten minutes to do something you enjoy will lighten your mood and inspire you to share kindness with another. Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
I hope that in the coming weeks you will try a bit of positive psychology. Please reach out and share with me what works for you—perhaps an app or a book—so we can learn from one another. Listen to some music and look for the good. I see so much good in your children’s faces.