I have been tearful. A few projects have not been going as planned, and so today, frustrated one time too many by an annoying bump in the road, I cried–runny nose, crinkled up face, whiny voice, smeared makeup–the whole package of female-dom that has had it.
There was a time when I spent much of my life in this state. The feeling that life had shortchanged me in some way dominated my thoughts. A pretty day or happy surprise might buoy me up for a day, or a week, but my overriding thought was that I needed to have, do, or be more than I was.
Years of life, of therapy, of reading, of praying, and of emulating those who seemed to have more keys to happiness has helped me see there is no virtue in constant criticism–of myself or others. I try to consciously fill my mind with uplifting thoughts, words, and images to minimize the influence of old thought patterns bent on tearing me down.
Yet sometimes, I’m snot-nosed in the bathroom, crying that it just isn’t fair.
So I have developed The Emergency Attitude Adjustment. As soon as I realize I have let hopelessness, discouragement, or doubt overtake me, I turn to these steps to return to the road to positivity. Since we all have moments like these, I offer these points to pull yourself out of a well of unhappiness or self-pity:
- Cultivate thankfulness. It is hard to complain when you are thankful. Today, when I came to myself, I expressed gratitude for everything. “Thank you for the blue sky. Thank you for the warm weather. Thank you for letting me see that adorable little boy and his perfect little shoes. Thank you for birds, and their songs. Thank you for my husband. Thank you that our problems are hassles, not emergencies.” If you have a faith, as I do as a Christian, thank God; if not, just be grateful for what you have. Just a few minutes of looking for things to appreciate and my problems seemed smaller and less overwhelming. The changes that gratitude causes in brain chemistry alone is a great benefit as well.
- Go over what is working. Today I was focused only on the problems in our life. When my husband tried to (gently) point out the good things we had, I tore them apart, too–because they weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. A little later, I re-evaluated my downer thoughts, and realized we have made a fair bit of progress in our life. My health has improved because I have made firm changes in my eating habits and exercise; my business has improved to the point that I now must organize myself better to get in all of my responsibilities in a day; and I have plans to get several irritating blocks to my productivity solved. I haven’t solved them yet: I have more chaos in my life than I would like, and I haven’t seen all the fruits of my improved health choices. But rather than letting that continue to discourage me, I chose to see the progress implied in the new patterns of mess. And I felt better.
- Choose happiness. Several years ago, I made the radical decision to be happy. For some reason, I had grown up thinking that happiness was wrong. That if you weren’t worried about something or dissatisfied with yourself in some way, you were being smug, or lazy, or prideful–something bad, at any rate. Studying the benefits of relaxation while learning more about Chinese medicine led me to a powerful conclusion: happiness is a choice. I can control what I think. If a problem shows up, I can worry about it, complain about it, or look for the opportunity in it. Developing this skill has been a long process, but now I usually only slip for a day or two, and then climb back on my Happiness Wagon.
- Reach out to others. When I let darkness and gloom surround me, I only want to be around people so I can complain to them. Surprisingly, this approach limits the number of people who want to be in my circle of friends. Now, I try to share something positive with others, especially when I feel down myself. If I feel discouraged, it helps if I think of someone else who may be discouraged and send them a card, or call them. If I am worried, I look to reassure someone else. At first, I may seem a little awkward trying to reach out, because it is a new action. If I am ham-fisted, I apologize and try again. Most people appreciate anyone who tries to help them, especially when they can tell the helpful person is out of their own comfort zone.
- Be honest with yourself. All this positivity is not meant to be a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky approach to life. Denying that you feel angry, hurt, confused, or discouraged and stuffing those emotions down while you force a smile is neither healthy or helpful. This lesson has been a hard one for me, since I could not see how to give thanks through my tears. I have noticed in the past couple of years that when I start my ascent from despair with an honest statement–“I am discouraged now; I am angry; I wish this had gone better”– that I get to an honest feeling of peace much more quickly.
I hope you find these steps as helpful as I have found them. Try them the next time you find yourself discouraged!