How dogs, coconut pies and gratitude can change your life.
Dogs. Coconut pies. My partner. I lay in bed, focused on my breath, imagining good things. Appointment one by one. My thoughts repeatedly wandered to all these worries. And noticed the thoughts and refocused. I have spent too much of my life caught up in all the misfortunes of life. I was ready to re-engage in positive things.
Unfortunately, thinking comes naturally to most of us. We are wired for negativity bias. Bad things are much easier to notice and remember than good things. This can manifest as worrying, thinking about our past mistakes, or thinking about all the ways we’ve gone wrong. These mental events trigger more negative emotions creating what is called a focus on compassion therapy as “loops” (Gilbert, 2010). Mind loops can prevent us from enjoying life. Furthermore, they can be fed depression, anxietyand anger.
It is difficult to get rid of these habits, and often the more we try, the more frustrated we become with ourselves.
There is an alternative. We can build a competitive practice.
Appreciation is something we all do sometimes. Maybe while looking at a colorful paper or having a meaningful conversation with a loved one, you felt gratitude at the moment. And yet, compared to ruminants, most of us have much less experience with appreciation. Just as we build physical muscles through exercise, some meditations can build our appreciation skills.
By allowing ourselves to experience the good things, both imagined and in the present moment, the less pleasant ones do not disappear. It simply opens up a less biased picture for us allowing us to participate in all the good things that come our way.
3 ways you can build this strength through mindfulness
1. List the kinds of things people have done for you
Most of us find it easy to name ways in which others have harmed us. What about the reverse? Joyful things. That is easier to forget. Take a moment and, either out loud or in writing, try to list the kindness others have shown you. This can include things like when a friend sends you an encouraging text or thanking you for how your high school math teacher made it more enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be anything big or too precise. You can set a timer, maybe five minutes, for the exercise. Really try to enjoy every event that comes to mind just as you might be thinking about a complaint – but the opposite.
2. Remember the good things
I did this in my nightly ritual of listing random “good” things, and you can do the same. Some write them as a gratitude list. I find it most helpful to picture them in my mind, name them and repeat them in my head. You can define good things however you want – good things that happened to you or someone else, things you enjoyed in life, people. The possibilities are endless.
3. Share with others
Writing a thank you card or letter sometimes seems obligatory. It does not have to be. If you remember a moment when someone made your day, you can send them a quick thank you. You can bring it up in a conversation with them or someone else. Their smile will probably make you smile too.
Gilbert, Paul. The Compassionate Mind: A New Approach to Life’s Challenges. London: Constable, 2010.