Several years ago I wrote the book, Listen: Trusting Your Inner Voice in Times of Crisis. I interviewed a lot of my intuitive reading clients who usually make appointments with me when they’re in the midst of change and transition and trying to figure out next steps. I also read a lot about the new field of “Positive Psychology.” It’s a branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Positive psychologists seek "to find and nurture genius and talent" and "to make normal life more fulfilling.”
Happiness Research Results
Happiness researcher and positive psychologist Ilona Boniwell completed a study of over 1,000 people in the UK, asking, “What does happiness mean to you?” What was interesting is that 56% of the respondents equated happiness with contentment.
According to the dictionary, contentment is “accepting things as they are.” Another interpretation is “mental or emotional satisfaction and foremost, a peace of mind.” When survey participants were asked what contributed to their contentment, Dr. Boniwell received very practical and down-to-earth replies.
- "For me, happiness is about personal tranquility.”
- "Happiness is going to sleep peacefully and waking up the next day.”
- "It’s about being at peace with the way things are going.”
- "Happiness is when you are ok inside about where you are and who you are.”
- "Happiness is taking the dog for a walk.”
What Makes YOU Feel Content?
What struck me when reading about the study and the responses is that happiness and contentment are choices. (When you’re going through a difficult time, what makes you feel content?) As her survey respondents suggested, it’s the little things that can get you through the tough times. It could be cuddling with your cat or dog, taking a walk, looking at the stars or getting a hug from a loved one. These things can all create contentment and can co-exist even when you’re in the midst of a crisis.
Dr. Boniwell states, "The trick is that what really matters is what’s going on inside rather than outside. In other words, what we want depends on us, rather than the situation. By changing our perspective we can affect our level of contentment as much, if not more, as we could do by changing the situation. As a famous saying goes, 'change what you can, accept what you cannot and have the wisdom to know thedifference.’”
So, how can you expand the level of contentment and peace in your life even when you’re going through an exceptionally tough time? According to the positive psychologists, practicing gratitude and consciously choosing constructive, uplifting thoughts will have a positive impact on your long-term health and happiness.
Make Note of the Good Things
While life crises often cause upset in many areas of our lives, all is not lost. Begin to pay attention to what is going well. One client told me about how overwhelmed she felt while her young daughter was in the hospital with a life threatening illness. “I was so angry and bitter at God for letting her get sick that I was making myself ill from all those negative feelings. When I realized that, I began to consciously focus on what good things were happening each day.”
She read a recent list to me that included, “My neighbor made dinner for us. Some of my daughter’s test result indicated she was improving. My husband greeted me with a bouquet of flowers and a big hug when I came home from the hospital.” This woman noted that as her mood improved, she felt more able to be present with her daughter. She also felt that she was more open to intuitive guidance when she shifted her focus from lack to gratitude.
Take Time for Gratitude
Martin Seligman is considered the “father of positive psychology.” He writes about a wonderful technique in his book, Authentic Happiness. He calls it the “Gratitude Visit.” It goes like this: Pick a person in your life whom you'd like to thank, someone who has meant a lot to you. Write this person a letter. After you've written it, call the person and ask to visit. Read the letter aloud when you are face to face.
One woman I spoke with did a version of this at her mom’s funeral. She went up to every friend and relative who had been close to her mother and shared a positive memory. “My mom had many wonderful friends during her lifetime and had equally wonderful stories about them. I felt like I was channeling my mom and her immense gratitude for life as I shared these moments with her loved ones who were still here. It helped me immeasurably in overcoming my grief and loss. My mom still feels very close to me because of this experience.”
Practice the Glad Game
I once had a roommate who was a classic pessimist. We got into anargument one evening and, in a moment of pique I will never forget, she yelled at me — “You are pathologically positive!” I will cherish that to my dying days!
How did I come by this positivism? It was from the book Pollyanna that I read as a child. The title character is Pollyanna Whittier, a young orphan who lives with her wealthy but stern Aunt Polly. Pollyanna's philosophy of life centers on what she calls "The Glad Game,” an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. It originated in an incident one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, found only a pair of crutches inside. Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna's father taught her to look at the good side of things — in this case, to be glad about the crutches because "we don't need 'em!"
One woman wrote, “I look back on the terrible time I’ve gone through and thank God that it is behind me. I’m amazed at my own strength and determination. I also came out of it whole with an appreciation for God’s guidance. Without the still, quiet voice within, I’d still be left in the darkness.”
You will find another job. You will discover friends, love, community, faith and health again. You will survive until you die and pass into the next life, as we all must do. The novelist, Ernest Hemingway, wrote, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places." May you be made strong even in your suffering.