Why is it that I can focus on a single negative in my life while ignoring so many positives? How can I change this waste of energy?
I think my thinking pattern is similar to many others. I can let a single worry dominate me. Typically, I find that this stance is a waste of my time and energy. Yet, I continue to do it.
I have made attempts to change my behavior, and some of my efforts have been more successful than others.
I have gotten better at letting go of trivial slights. The driver that cuts me off no longer spoils the rest of my morning.
I also employ cognitive techniques to correct my perceptual distortions. When I get upset about something, I will pull back and logically explore the problem and reframe the information at hand in a more realistic way and less catastrophic way.
Also, I work hard to let go of situations that I have no control over. I’ll, “Let go and let God.”
The above techniques all fall into what I would call a pathology model. In other words, they focus on lessening my current worries. The problem already exists, and so I actively treat it.
Good doctors not only treat problems they also practice preventive medicine. I would like to think of myself as a good doctor and what I advise my patients can also apply to me. So how do I prevent worry? There are many ways, but the one that I would like to share with you today is called a gratitude list. This technique is simple, but it does require some practice and thought.
The positives in my life far exceed the negatives. However, I can take my blessings as expectations and thereby ignore their significance. A gratitude list is one way to acknowledge these good things, and when I do this, I automatically have a more positive outlook of my life.
Here are the steps I use.
-Once a day I think of 3-5 things that I’m grateful for. They can be significant things or minor things. For instance, I might be thankful for my health (major thing), and I also may be grateful for having coffee with a friend (minor thing).
-I make an effort to vary the things that I’m grateful for. In other words, I don’t repeat the same list every day.
-Sometimes I’ll write down my gratitude list, sometimes I’ll only make a mental note.
-I don’t just write down a list, I also think about each example on that list. I may recall that I’m no longer on any medication and that I’m able to walk long distances once again. I might think about a walk that I took and how much I enjoyed it. For my second example, I may be grateful for having people in my life who want to spend time with me. I might remember the conversation that I had during my coffee klatsch, or how much I enjoyed the taste of the coffee.
-If possible, I recall my gratitude list during the day, repeating the above technique.
When I first started this daily exercise I had trouble coming up with unique things to be grateful for. However, over time, it became easy. The trick is to limit your list to a manageable number. I find that 5 examples works for me. I want to have time to think about my list, I don’t want to write down a lot of meaningless examples.
By doing this exercise regularly, it has become evident that I have much to be grateful for. When I think about my life in positives terms I feel more positive about myself, I attract more positive people, and many of my problems feel more trivial. All of these benefits for the cost of a little time!
I would encourage you to make a gratitude list every day for the next 30 days. Let me know if it makes a positive difference in your life. If the answer is yes, it is easy to incorporate a gratitude list into your daily routine.
Are you feeling overworked, and undervalued? Here are a couple of facts.
Fact #1: We have more leisure time than ever before. Life is good!
Fact #2: Fact #1 is a lie.
Mid-century prognosticators predicted that good times would lie ahead for the people of the 21st century. They believed that automation would make work more meaningful and efficient. It was predicted that work weeks would shrink to 15 hours, and leisure time would expand to fill the void. The United States, with all of its industrial might, would be at the forefront of this change, and its educated and skilled workers would benefit the most.
Data suggest that overall leisure time has increased in the US, and we are working less than we did a few decades ago. So, life is good, right?
Dear reader, do you have a job? Is your life easier in 2018 than it was in 1998, or is it harder? Do you feel that you have more free time, or less free time? Are you enjoying life more, or enjoying it less? I hope that your answers indicate a continued movement towards a positive and meaningful life. A life where you have time to do those things that you find personally satisfying and rewarding. However, for many of you, I doubt that this is the case.
Random statistics are like other generalities, they make great bullet points, but they only tell part of the story. Data suggest that our lives are better now than 50 years ago. We have less pollution, we live longer, our houses are bigger, we have more stuff. In addition, our lives have become more automated. We can order a new shirt with a click of a mouse. We can summon Alexis, Siri, or Google to start our favorite music playlist. We can cook a meal in minutes with the touch of a microwave button.
We have been told that to have a good life we need to become skilled and educated. We have been told that using our brains instead of our backs will give us lives full of meaning, and an abundance of leisure time.
So why are many of us stressed? Why do we feel that we have no time for ourselves; that we are on a hamster wheel frantically running but never moving forward?
Erik Hurst, University of Chicago economist, looked at leisure time and found that there are individuals in our society that have an abundance of leisure time and that this abundance makes them happy. However, they are not highly trained or educated. In fact, they are at the opposite end of the spectrum. A 2015 study found that twenty-two percent of undereducated males between the ages of 21-30 had not worked in the previous 12 months. These folks were typically living in a relative’s home (think parent’s basement), and they often filled their free time with cheap entertainment, usually video games.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were men who he referred to as “elite.” They were skilled and educated. Elite men had less free time than their fathers did. They often defined who they were by their work life, rather than other interest. They worked long hours and produced more than similarly skilled men in other developed countries. They did not rate as high on the happy scale.
I believe it would be reasonable to claim a similar outcome for elite women. More work, an extended workday, less free time, less happy. Many Fortune 500 companies expect their workers to work longer and to be more productive than previous generations. We can never escape work, as we are always accessible via our smartphones and laptop computers. A long commute used to be a time to listen to music or catch up on the latest sports news. Thanks to mobile devices our cars have now become our second office. Vacations served as escapes; now wifi and laptops help us to catch up on work emails when we should be catching rays.
We are stressed and tired, so we use services to supplement our energy gaps. We pay someone to watch our children, cut our grass, and clean our house. We go out to dinner or buy premade meals. We use our credit cards to procure an expensive vacation or buy an unnecessary item with the false belief that these things will make us happy. All of these behaviors cost us money, which means we need to work even harder.
Social media makes us feel that we don’t have enough. We see pictures of Jerry’s new car, Mary’s exciting trip, Bob’s bigger house. The visual images make us feel dissatisfied and want more. Our new purchases make us feel better, but only for a short amount of time. We live a bipolar life of working hard and playing hard. There is no middle ground. There is no balance.
Stressed, our normal life jobs become burdens. Routine tasks like helping our kids with their homework turn into annoyances. We ease our frustration by distracting ourselves with texting our friends or playing games on our phones when we should be focused on the task at hand. This multi-tasking disconnects us and we become less present, which makes us feel alone and lonely. Affairs, addiction, increased debt, compulsive eating, compulsive sleeping, compulsive buying, and other fixes serve as temporary ego patches that often result in long-term negative consequences.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, we continue this cycle with the magical thought: “If I only could make a little more money I would be happy” However, this is often not the case. Money is like heroin, whatever you make, you want a little more, and like heroin, cash promises much but delivers little.
So what is the answer, dear reader? Should we quit our jobs and move into our parent’s basements? For most, that is not the solution.
What do you really want out of life? Ask yourself, “Do I want”…
More time with my family? A safe living environment? Good health? A sense of real purpose? or Fill in the blank?
Are your actions consistent with your wants? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that making more money will automatically solve your problems.
Things that you may want to consider:
-Try to find a balance between work life and personal life. I have known some people who took lesser jobs or gave up careers, with a resulting increase in happiness and wellbeing.
-Realize that more stuff will not make you happy
-Practice being in the present.
-Designate times to silence your phone.
-Spend time with people who you love and cherish, and who love and cherish you.
-Avoid people whose connection with you is based only on what you can provide them.
-Develop a spiritual life.
-Connect with others in a meaningful and giving way. Consider helping someone for the pleasure of helping, without any expectation of a return for you.
-Realize that most of the things that we do are work, but the type of work can make a big difference not only in how we feel but also how others feel about us. I have heard many an adult talk glowingly about their parents. Beautiful memories of doing a project with dad, or baking cookies with mom (Feel free to reverse gender roles, if so desired). I have never heard an adult lovingly talk about an absent parent who bought them a new car on their 16th birthday. Further, I have never heard someone say, “My parents were awesome, they each worked 100 hours a week!”
-Write down a list of things that you are grateful for, and read it twice a day.
-Be thankful for what you have, instead of always thinking about what you want.
-Stop watching shopping networks; stop reading ad papers.
-Limit your time on social media.
-Leisure time is that time that we can devote solely to personal interests. It doesn’t have to be expansive when our lives are filled with other meaningful activities. Yes, those unemployed 21-30-year-olds may find happiness playing video games for 10 hours a day, but for most of us, a life of leisure would be unfulfilling. Consider leisure time like a desert. A bowl of ice cream can complete a meal. However, a diet of only ice cream would make most of us sick.
I alerted my Google Assistant that I was up, and she wished me a good morning. She informed me that it was cooler and that there was rain in the forecast. I figured that the rain prediction was for later in the day.
I put on my running shoes, donned a jacket, and stepped out onto my front porch. It was raining! Back in the house for waterproof duck shoes, a raincoat, and an umbrella. Off I went.
Cold, and raining, I expected to have the streets to myself, but this was not the case. Animals were darting here and there in the pre-dawn, including a skunk with a tail raised just for me. I crossed the street and counted my observational blessings.
As I approached downtown I walked past our public library. A lone car sat in the empty parking lot, its hatchback up, and the radio blaring out a political radio station. Odd.
I continued my walk and saw two middle-aged ladies sitting on a wet park bench having a loud and animated conversation. It was 5:30 AM. Odd.
I moved on to the next block, and it sounded like someone was calling to me. I turned my head to discover a mom talking to her baby, who was in a stroller. She was walking her baby at 5:35 AM! Odd.
I started to cross the street, but I had to jump back as an elderly man wearing full high vis rain gear barrelled past me on his bicycle. He seemed oblivious to my presence. Odd.
I arrived at my Starbucks and was greeted by a barista, who looked up, smiled, and poured my coffee without ever asking for my order. Finally something familiar.
As humans, we try to predict the future. What team will win? What will the stock market do? What will that lab test show?
This morning I predicted that I would have a very quiet walk, but that was not the case. In fact, it was not only much busier but the type of “traffic” was completely different from what I normally observe at this very early hour.
Many logical prognostications turn out to be erroneous guesses. I am great at projecting in the future, and sometimes that leads to unnecessary worry. Dear reader, I assume that you have done the same.
It is good to plan for problems, but that planning should be a sidebar, not the primary focus in our lives. When we live in the worry zone we waste valuable energy that often serves no purpose.
How should we face potential problems? That rule has been long established.