If you do a practice and train your attention to hover in the present, then you will build the internal capacity to do that as needed – at will and voluntarily.
— Daniel Goleman
I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that it is possible to feel hopeful, grateful, and happy. The bad news is that it doesn’t just happen.
It turns out that even something as basic as hope is not just a feeling. It is a thought process. And, maybe, just maybe, the reason that we – as a people – have lost our faith in goodness and life is directly linked to the “stuff” we listen to/watch/read during the day.
Let me be very clear. I am not blaming the media. They have become what we pay them to be. They find the dirt and they report it. “If it bleeds, it leads” didn’t start with them. It started with us declaring some things interesting and some things booooring. In other words, we’ve gotten what we asked for.
One Source of Sour Feelings
If you follow us, you know that I’m an amateur investor. One might think that investing news is “just the facts.” That would be nice, but there is nothing that we can’t turn on its head and ask the opposite. If the market is running up, the headline will read, “Is the Run Over?” or “Is this a Dead Cat Bounce?” or “How Much Longer Can this Continue?” or… (I have no idea where the phrase “dead cat bounce” originated.) The fact is that no matter what is going on, they’re never going to come on the air and announce, “Nothing going on today. Go on with your lives and we’ll let you know the numbers at the end of the day.” Just like work expands to fill the available time, news, which is work for someone, also fills the available broadcast time.
Since we can’t control what is broadcast or printed, we have to control either what we take in, our reaction to it, or both.
Have you been feeling hopeless? Do you feel powerless? Does it seem that the world is going to hell in a hand basket? (OK, does anyone know the source of that little gem?) Between stories of zombies and ghouls and face-eating psychos, don’t things seem a little bit out of control?
With all of this “news” maybe we need a different approach.
Attitude of Gratitude
Over and over, we’re told that we need to develop an attitude of gratitude to counter the negativity that shines on us every day. Like the sun, it is always there whether there are clouds or clear skies.
For some of us, it was only after we’d gotten a painful sunburn that we realized that even if we couldn’t see the sun or feel its warmth, it was still up there sending down the rays that either made us that gorgeous brown, gave us freckles on top of freckles, or turned us beet red. It turned out that while a cloudy day could be comfortably cool while we were working on our tans, if we didn’t respect the power of the sun to “cook” us through the clouds, we could be very, very burned.
Negativity is the same way. If we aren’t conscious of all the negative messages we received and then forward to others, it gives us the mental equivalent of a bad sunburn. We get depressed and angry and frustrated and hopeless – not a good place for us to be if our goal is to be happy.
Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, tells us that if we truly want to be happy, an attitude of gratitude isn’t enough. We need a gratitude practice.
Just like you, I’ve read the advice to keep a gratitude journal. The problem was that I found that often, by the end of the day, I was so frustrated and depressed and angry and hopeless that I couldn’t really find anything for which I felt grateful. All I could find were things that I should feel grateful for. So, I’d write those down – which just made me feel worse.
In other words, we can’t just go through life saying, “Today, I’m going to be grateful.” We have to actively notice things throughout the day for which we can be grateful. For example, recently, I’ve changed how I enter and leave work. I go in the front door. This does not indicate a promotion, it just means that I can park closer to where I need to be by coming in the front.
Because it is the “formal” entry for the building, there is a tall flag pole with a very large U.S. flag and the state flag. (The U.S. flag is now beautiful because they recently replaced the ragged, ratty looking one that preceded it.) There is also a row of beautiful tall trees. Every evening, as I leave, the winds are coming up, and I actually can hear the wind blowing gently through the trees. I don’t remember ever hearing that before and although I’m in a hurry to get home, I always stop to listen to this wonderful sound. I am grateful for this little bit of nature that brightens my day.
There is also a line of pine trees across the parking lot on a greenbelt. These provide shade when I go out for a walk. Because the temperatures are desert-like, I am very grateful for their shade, which, at least temporarily, let me get outdoors at lunch time without risking heat stroke.
What Brown says is that we must actively seek things for which we are grateful. This is the practice of gratitude. It is focused on finding things which support our “attitude”. It is a commitment to deliberately noticing the world around us with the intent of seeing the stuff which gladdens our hearts. It is one antidote to the little frustrations that make us angry and the news items that lead to depression and hopelessness.
So far, this new approach is lightening my mood. I’m going to keep at it. Who knows, soon, I might be my old, cheerful self – or not, but what have I got to lose?
Why don’t you try it? It just might lighten your mood too.