Paul hated the holidays. It wasn’t only keeping up with appearances. Paul couldn’t keep up with his mind and feelings.
When our minds are racing, we get angry and scared and try to rescue ourselves by “snapping out of it.” But what if doing that shoves us on to the treadmill of our thoughts and emotions?
If you feel like you can’t keep up, how about taking a little time to give thanks. Gratitude actually takes us to a place of safety. Too often, we give thanks for other people and what we have. Perhaps this year, we could cultivate gratitude for ourselves. Here are some questions to reflect on.
What changes have I made this year that I’m thankful for?
If you think you haven’t made any changes or are too stuck to change, think again. We are always evolving — right down to every cell in our body. Think about what changes you’ve made towards becoming a better version of yourself this year. The fact that you’re here reading about wellbeing is a stride. After all, many of us go through our lives with little awareness of mental health.
Can I see my negative emotions in a different way?
Depression, Anxiety & Company. Negative emotions have a bad reputation. We pretend they don’t exist at times, but at other times we’re swept away by them. What if I told you negative emotions exist for a reason. Evolutionarily, depression signals when to retreat so we can conserve our resources and recharge. Anxiety protects us by preparing us to fight, run away or plan to solve a problem. They are fundamentally useful. But when things get difficult in our lives — because something bad has happened or we’ve done something we’re not proud of — these negative emotions morph into Depression, Anxiety & Company-On-Steroids. They worsen when we fight them, so we feel trapped in quicksand. What can we do instead? Thank our negative emotions for trying to protect us, and give ourselves permission to feel them. We are human after all.
I like what Zen monk and meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh advises: cradle our emotions and take care of them. That way, we learn to understand where they come from and how to help ourselves. When we face our fears squarely, we grow as people.
What painful lessons am I now thankful for?
To be alive is to taste the full spectrum of emotions and experiences. We cannot select what’s good and avoid the bad. Rather, it’s about knowing that when bad things happen, we’ll be able to overcome them. They say hindsight is 20/20; sometimes our best friend is Cognitive Photoshop. When the pain has bubbled over and we’ve rebuilt our lives, we can see things in a different perspective. And when we reflect on the painful lessons we’ve grown to be thankful for, we become more resilient and better able to overcome — because life will always happen.
What have I shed that I’m grateful for?
As we grow, we lose things that no longer serve us. These can be habits, beliefs and emotions. Sometimes they’re physical, things like excess weight, illness and pain. Often, we’re so caught up in what we lack and what we haven’t yet gained that we forget what we’ve released.
Do I hold myself to harder standards than I treat others?
We’re often harshest to ourselves. When I ask my clients how they would treat their friends or their children in the same scenario, with wide eyes they declare “Of course not!” Yet, we’re uncompromisingly difficult with ourselves. We can give thanks by treating ourselves kindly, by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and feel, just like every other human being. Who do I love and protect? Can I love and protect myself in the same way from now on?
If you’ve answered “yes” to the previous question, this reflection can help you practice giving love to yourself. Think about how you respond kindly and with care to anyone — your child, cat or friend. Connect to that place inside you where the love and safety comes from. And when you notice you’re being harsh to yourself, tell yourself “I deserve to treat me kindly.” Breathe gently into yourself as you connect into the place of love and safety.
Are the good things I do really “stupid” or “irrational”?
Too often, we dismiss the things we do as “stupid”, “little” or “irrational”. I know, society teaches us to be bigger, stronger and faster than our competitors. It’s always about newer and shinier toys. That’s where we learn to put a metric on what we do. How about seeing it this way– a good thing is a good thing. Let’s not give it a size. Instead, can we be thankful for these things we are able to do? If you treated yourself kindly today or if you didn’t label your kind action as “small” or “stupid”, give thanks for that.
What do I love about myself?
As a psychologist and coach, I believe we’re all worthy. We just need to remember that. Sometimes, stepping back and reflecting on what we love about ourselves can help us to reconnect with our sense of worth without worrying about society’s values or obsessing over what we lack. What do you like when you look in the mirror? What about your personality do you love? What talents and abilities are you grateful for. What have you achieved that you’re most proud of? If you were to choose the one thing about yourself that brings you great joy, what would it be?
How can I create joy in my life?
My favorite meditation is smiling meditation. Smiling is a quick hack that sends our brains signals to feel peaceful and safe. As you breathe, feel yourself giving a relaxed smile. Widen your smile until you feel it connect with a place inside where you feel calm and warm. Shift your attention to your eyes, basking in the feeling of warmth. Allow your eyes to smile. And as you continue to breathe in and out, connect with a sense of your whole body smiling.
How will you practice gratitude for yourself today?