Building on my last article, I want to again address the charges often placed on Positive Psychology that it is often criticised for focusing on happiness and well-being while ignoring the multitude of negative experiences and emotions that we frequently face. This is a direct misinterpretation of the field of Positive Psychology. In fact Positive Psychology gives us many evidence based tools to face the negative things in our life head on. Previously I wrote about the role of self-compassion in helping us to directly address negative experiences that we have. Now I’d like to examine the way that gratitude can help us deal with the bad things in life.
It may seem counter-intuitive to think about being grateful and expressing gratitude when our lives are reeling from a shock or when we are feeling down because nothing appears to be going right. Sometimes one thing after another goes wrong, maybe for us, maybe for our friends and family and it seems like we’re in a deep rut with no way out. This can affect our mood, making us feel low or maybe short tempered and irritable. We can find ourselves in a self-perpetuating negative cycle. We need to break that cycle and this is where gratitude comes in.
Expressing gratitude provides us with the opportunity to pause and reflect on our experiences. It then helps us to focus on the benefits of our experience by examining it in detail and from different points of view until we can find something to be thankful for. When we are in a rut we may not want to face up to what is making us feel so low, but by examining our situation and finding something to be thankful for we get a tiny glimpse into an alternative, more positive perspective. The more we reflect and express gratitude, the stronger that alternative perspective becomes.
If a situation feels overwhelming we may want to look outside it and express thanks for other things in our lives such as our bus arriving on time, the sun coming through the window or the smile we gave to someone. This process helps to elicit positive emotions and these can help us to cope with the negative aspects of our situation.
Make It Real
To fully experience the positive benefits of expressing gratitude it is best to express it in writing, maybe by keeping a gratitude journal. By writing out our thoughts in full, it encourages us to reflect in detail. One way to get the most out of this reflection is to look for positive meaning in our experiences. Sometimes this may be easy, for example, when something good has happened to us such as spending a relaxing day with friends or family, we can examine and record the meaning and value those people and experiences bring to our lives. At other times, however, finding positive meaning may be more difficult and may require more conscious effort on our behalf. Initially we may not be able to find positive meaning in why we didn’t get that job or why we were unable to meet up with an old friend, but on closer examination we may find it by appreciating that we were fortunate to get an interview and that we are now more experienced by going to that interview. This may give us the encouragement to keep persevering.
Finally a gratitude journal is a great thing to read when we are feeling low and it reminds us that there are good things in our lives and it helps us to re-appreciate them.
About the author: To find out more about Bryony Shaw MAPP, click here.