I recently checked out from the library Rich Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness, which is all about experiencing positive experiences in a way that impacts neural activity longer term. This helps us overcome our in-built negativity bias which, while helpful at tunes in our brain’s evolution, can be less helpful in the modern world.
One idea that is so simple, yet so transformative, is the fact that just as some good fact doesn’t cancel out the bad things in your life, the bad stuff doesn’t cancel out the good.
And taking in the good adds up.
Even those minor good feelings from a cup of tea made just the way you like it…Or your child’s chubby hand reaching your neck for a cuddle…Or smelling the fresh air after a rain.
The point is good things can be everywhere.
And no, they categorically do not cancel out if you hate your job, or you’re worried about money, or if you and your partner are fighting. Of course they don’t.
But they still exist in your life and they still count for something.
A lot of people, myself included, can easily fall into binary thinking. Either it’s good or it’s bad. Black or white.
Actually, more often than not, life is both. It’s beautiful and scary and pleasurable and difficult and charming and frustrating.
So if you find yourself sometimes falling into the black or white, all-or-nothing trap, here are some exercises you can try to appreciate the good and the bad, together.
Find your battle cry
Finding a mantra you can repeat to yourself and anchor to during a storm can be helpful. I’ve sometimes repeated, ‘This too,’ in my head when there’s difficult times, so I can hold it alongside everything else. It’s not unlike the serenity prayer some people repeat. Finding a battle cry you can mentally rally behind when the going gets tough can be surprisingly helpful.
Replace ‘but’ with ‘and’
Take a sheet of paper and write a few phrases with ‘but’ that naturally come to you. For example:
- My car is old but reliable.
- I am always working hard in the office but never managing to get on top of things.
- My waist is skinny but my thighs are big.
You get the idea.
Now, cross out the ‘but’ and replace with ‘and’. Reread your phrases. How does this change the tone, or the way you feel about your comments?
Focus on the good for a while
If you’re into journalling, then this is a good one to put pen to paper to, or you can equally think through in your head. Focus on the good, anything good in your life, from the smallest pleasures to the broadest, most fundamental aspects of life. Feel pleasure in them. Warm to their glow, bask in gratitude. My list of good things can include everything from a cool breeze, sun in my face, a good cup of coffee, to the fact I am a mother, or own a home, or was able to reconnect with myself years ago in therapy in such a way that I’ve not lost sight of myself since. The point is not to compare this to the bad, or suggest that your list of good cancels out the bad, but it can help to remind yourself that the good is there, too.