Or how I made myself look at things from the other direction
Today has not been a good day. It’s colder than it has been in 23 years, for one thing. Cold is not my gig, people. Why am I living where the air hurts my face, amiright? And you know those days, the ones where something doesn’t go right, and then another thing doesn’t go right and soon it feels like life is careening wildly out of control? Yeah, it’s been that kind of day for me. I found myself grumping around and thinking about what a terrible day I was having.
Now, my day isn’t even half done. I don’t want to poison the entire rest of my day, but I’m not good at that whole mindset of being able to start things over at any minute. All things being equal, I would probably go back to bed and hope things looked brighter tomorrow. All things are NOT equal, however, as I’m sure you have noticed a time or two yourself.
The only thing for it was to look for the silver lining. Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a magic fix. Basically, it’s stepping out of the unhappy thoughts and looking at them from the outside. It is a neat trick, if you can pull it off. Let me just say it takes practice, even if you are a natural optimist like I am. And really, who wants to be in a situation where you have the opportunity to look for silver linings? Yet, here I am, and a little more practice never hurt anybody.
I headed to The Gratitude Project on Facebook.
My day did not get immediately better. Neither did my mood. I’m still rather grouchy and I got wildly lost on the way to an appointment for which I was horribly late. (Silver lining? There was a cancellation and therefore they were able to see us so we didn’t waste the 30-minute drive + 15 minutes circling the area yelling at my GPS which insisted I had arrived while I clearly had not arrived.)
What did happen was that I had a reset in the middle of the day. I truly am grateful for all the things that didn’t happen even though they very easily could have. I saw that there was more to the day than the irritants.
I have dear friends who have way bigger problems than I have. I have friends who are in dire financial straits, have extreme medical problems, are dealing with divorces; my sister even had her car shot (apparently randomly) a short while ago. I suppose there are people for whom thinking of how much worse other people have it can help them put their life in perspective. When I try that technique, it only sends me into a cycle of guilt and self-loathing that I dare to be unhappy over relatively minor things, regardless of how many of them stack up.
There will always be people who have things worse than you have them. There will always be people who have things better than you have them. I can’t make myself feel better by thinking of how much better I have it than my friends, let alone people whose stories I don’t even know. The way it feels to me, that’s monstrous in its own way. I can find no joy in the misfortune of others, even if that joy is “only” that I am not suffering the same misfortune.
Instead of this technique, I try to reframe the events in my day, or life, such that I can see that I was lucky despite the unfortunate occurrences. I am teaching myself to take a wider view. It is when we get trapped in a hyper-focused view of an event that we have trouble moving past the unpleasant feelings.
Indeed, hyper-focusing on any event, thought, or opinion shuts us off from every other perspective. If, for example, you are convinced your spouse is mad at you because of a short response to a question, and if you cling to that opinion, you will probably find more “evidence” to show that you are right (don’t ask me how I know this). If you can step out of your feelings of hurt, or anger, or whatever was triggered by the short response, you may be able to see that your spouse is suffering from a headache, or that his or her mind is elsewhere – perhaps on a problem at work, or something else completely unrelated to you.
You may even find that your spouse IS mad at you, but if you remain enmeshed in your own reaction to this anger, it is, at best, difficult to determine why, and what can be done to clear up the situation.
Seeing problems when they happen is a survival mechanism. If we don’t see there is a problem, how could we possibly solve it, or avoid it in the future? Getting stuck in problems is a thought pattern, often well-worn and difficult to re-route. It is counter-productive to expect yourself to change this pattern immediately. It takes time and practice (lots of practice) to rewire your brain.
For me, looking for that silver lining is a technique that helps me step out. Others find success by completely experiencing and honoring the feeling they are feeling, and are then more able to let it go. The important thing is to realize that those difficult moments are experiences and do not need to define your day, or your life.
Brightest blessings, wherever you find them, however you find them. ~Sunny