I am often brilliant at noticing just what needs to be different, better, changed in my life and at straight up ignoring the things that go well. And it turns out I’m not so special in that way, “We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives.” (Flourish, p. 33). As soon as we notice a small snag in the sweater we are wearing, it is hard to notice anything else. We don’t think about how soft and warm and wonderful the sweater is. Don’t fondly recall the wear and tear that led to the snag. Don’t notice how stylish and adorable we look in it. We just see the snag…
I actually think that this comes from an “adaptive striving”. If I want to have all good things in my life, it would make common sense to focus on the things that aren’t currently good so that I could tackle them and make them better. The problem is that there is always something that isn’t exactly just right and we miss countless moments that could bring us joyful contentment.
So, the first step from Seligman’s Flourish was positive affect – if we want to begin to flourish, we need to shift our focus from all of the things that aren’t exactly how we wish they were, to all of the things that make us feel good and content and happy. (That, by the way, doesn’t mean we don’t strive to improve our lives in ways that we can – we just don’t miss the good while doing this).
There are a number of ways to cultivate positive emotion in our daily lives. One simple way is to take a moment every evening and write down 3 good things from your day. I remember when my son was in Elementary School, he was often a bit negative and cranky. He would get in the car and on our ride home would tell me all of the things that had gone wrong in his day. After a while I instituted a policy where for each 1 negative thing, he needed to tell me 3 positive things. I challenge you to do the same for yourself. It’s not weird that if you focus on bad a lot you feel bad. When we find ways to notice the good we feel better. Simple.
So, my one complaint this morning:
1. I had more teenagers than I would like to count sleeping in my apartment last night and I suspect I’ll be cleaning for hours.
My 3 positives this morning are:
1. One of my kids insisted that we get matching x-mas pajamas and I am currently wearing matching PJs with my two girls.
2. I made an unexpected professional connection last night and I think a cool collaboration may grow from it.
3. I have the cutest puppy on the planet (for Exhibit A see pippa.messina on Instagram).
What’s your list of 3?
P.S. I feel the need to further add that I wish this post wasn’t a holiday post. This time of year we often think we are supposed to be full of positive affect when we actually feel super crappy. If you don’t happen to have lots of things that make you feel awesome this week, then I think you should get a pass. Hide out in bed and watch the entire Harry Potter series. Better yet, watch Beyonce – Behind the Music, twice. Or play Candy Crush for hours (buy those extra lives that it is stupid to pay for). Eat too much. Feel crappy. It is made up that we are supposed to feel happy on some particular day. Once you are done indulging feeling bad, you may notice that you do have things that you could feel good about. Maybe you have your health. Maybe your family loves you (even if they are a bit of a pain). Maybe you have a best friend who you can laugh about everything and nothing with. Maybe there are people who are suffering worse than you are. If so, focus on the things that can make you feel better. If not, that’s ok too…this too shall pass…