There came a day when I realized how much negativity had seeped into my life. It started simple enough. Life was hard. I had been overwhelmed. My marriage was failing. My parents’ home burned to the ground. Finances were difficult. The house needed repairs. The children were young and needy. There were so many things pushing down on me that I didn’t think I could survive. I could see that I was headed down a road toward depression and an inability to repair the damage of negativity on my own.
I prayed for a solution. I looked for an idea and shared my thoughts with a dear friend. I didn’t know where I could look until I stumbled over a book which changed my life. A Simple Act of Gratitude resonated with me. I read voraciously and recognized myself in the book. I knew what the author was saying. John Kralik spoke truths. I wanted to jump out of my chair and scream ‘Hallelujah!’ I made one simple commitment after reading this book. I would send out thank you card out each week. Of course, this required that I started looking for positive items in my life for which to be grateful.
My quest didn’t end here. I had a long way to continue on this road. I was still focused on what was wrong. I didn’t appreciate any of the small things in my life because the big things took over everything. I was devastated by a flat tire. It was so frustrating to walk into my local grocery store and find things re-arranged. I turned and walked out in agitation. I was irritated by stop lights, children in the back of my Yukon, dirty car, small socks pressed between my couch cushions, dirty dishes in the sink, finger prints on the walls of the stairwell — oh this list could continue on.
Sitting with a dear friend, I continued my tirade. She had children the same span in ages as mine, yet her youngest was the age of my oldest. She shared her frustrations and mentioned a book. I knew I needed to make more progress and sought out more information. Praying for additional inspiration and not knowing there was a whole industry on positive psychology, I received a beautiful gift. The Happiness Factor by Kirk Wilkinson.
With red pen in hand, I carefully read through each page and notated items to enjoy and work on later within the pages of my learning journal. I chose different items to focus on for a day or a week. One week, I had the goal to:
Unique individuals have individual gifts. Search for the gifts of those you encounter.
I worked on this goal with everyone I encountered, including the cashier at the store who was grumpy and irritating!
Did I see a change in my environment, my circumstances and those with whom I encountered? No! I only changed my heart and what I wonderful change it was. I felt empowered by a quote from Kirk Wilkinson:
“I too had spent a long time waiting to be happy when all along I had the power to be happy no matter what” (Willkinson, 2008, p.136).
My journed is a daily one. It isn’t over. There are still grumpy days. I did get divorced. I suffered from what I called the ‘Catotonic State’ where Grief was my best friend as we wallowed in bed together. I also eventually got remarried. One day, while complaining under my breath about picking up my new husband’s belongings, I caught myself. Oh my! I was doing it again. Being negative. Another wonderful quote from a good book came to my memory:
“Infuse positivity into your surroundings. … While we may not always have complete control over our surroundings, we can make specific efforts to infuse them with positivity” (Achor, 2010, p.53).
I smiled at the items in my arms and started listing all of the things for which I was grateful about my spouse -his ability to love anyone, charitable, giving, great father of FIVE step-children, etc. Why would I gripe about something so trivial when he possessed so many wonderful attributes?
My positive attitude bled over into my work life. I noted a checklist on my office whiteboard from Shawn Achor about how to keep a positive work attitude.
The secret to a happier work life:
- Record three items of gratitude daily.
- Journal or record positive experiences.
- Exercise daily.
- Send one gratitude email daily.
- Enjoy a few minutes of reflection daily.
I was thrilled to receive an email on my last week at my job from my director who stated that my positive attitude would be missed. I counted it as a personal success.
I also tend to focus on devoted authors. When I find an author that I love, I will dive right into their writing and read everything they’ve written. This has been the case with Martin Seligman. I’m still working my way through his books, but these are the three that are my favorite right now:
My journey isn’t over. I find ways daily to focus on gratitude. First, I ensure that I always record several things in my planner for which I am grateful. I highlight them in blue -why? Blue for blessings. I try to be sincere and focus on items of the day. For instance, while sitting in church one Sunday, I was shivering. Kerry, my husband, put his arm around me. I was so grateful that he noticed that need and provided warmth.
Second, I continue to focus on and learn about being happy and positive in life. Recently, I found the most beautiful blog entry about gratitude from a young mother who was concerned about an at-risk pregnancy. She focused on the good and worried less about what she could not control.
Third, I attempt to surround myself with positive people. I have a hard enough time keeping negativity at bay. Why would I add another temptation?
So how has life changed because I am more positive? I still have small hand prints on my walls -left by my nephews and nieces. They’ve been there for months. Periodically, I run my own hand over the marks and smile. One day, Ethan, Owen and the 20+ others will run up my stairs two and three at a time just like their bigger cousins and I will miss those small hands that rubbed my check and hugged me tightly when they were sad. I appreciate the red light -after all, it’s there for my safety. The small socks are gone. They’re replaced by man size socks. (Okay — I still cannot make a positive twist on this one. It irritates me just the same! 🙂 ) My Suburban is still full of loud children. I try to join them in their shenanigans. Life has become more delightful not because the trials are gone. If anything they are just as intense if not more so, but my outlook on life has changed.
How grateful I am for this life! My next goal? To teach my children to appreciate and be grateful for life.