Focus on the positive. It’s hard to believe that a serious life crisis and the word “blessing” would come in the same sentence. When my son and husband had cancer, idea of looking for something positive in our family’s experiences probably seemed hyper-religious or Pollyanaish in the extreme to some people. Spiritually, I viewed it as a form of radical surrender to an organizing framework of my life; practically, it kept me sane.

Tune down the victim thinking. Leaving behind the “poor me” mentality meant walking away from the norm. After all, my family was going through hell. Didn’t I deserve to throw myself a pity party and invite a few friends? Yet, as comforting as it seemed initially to wrap myself up in the cold comfort of victim thinking or anxiety, or as easy as it was to allow the fears take over my day, I always came away from those internal, negative conversations wearier than before. And I couldn’t afford to add to my exhaustion.

So, logically, anything I could do to grow the positive in my life made more sense to me than focusing on the negative. I needed all the infusions of energy I could get and I found that looking for and counting my blessings filled me up. Gratitude turned out to be the best antidote I could find for fatigue, anxiety, self-doubt and dread.

Cultivate gratitude. Research bears the importance of gratitude. The Greater Good Science Center, citing the research of more than 30 scientists and graduate students, has found that gratitude impacts not only our emotions with increased happiness, joy, optimism, compassion, and generosity, it can also lower blood pressure and improve the immune system. Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude, suggests a few ways to increase the time we spend being grateful:

  • Using a visual cue (such as a picture or even Post-it note) to remember to take the time to be grateful.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal—what happened today that filled you with a sense of appreciation?
  • Learning prayers of gratitude as ways to incorporate more gratitude into your life.

Hang on to the good a bit longer. The author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson, suggests “taking in the good” as a way to counter the brain’s natural tendency to hang on to the negative thoughts and too quickly let go of the positive ones. Whenever something good happens, he suggests that you first fully experience it. Notice that the sky is bright blue after a week of clouds or the delightful smell of fresh baked cookies in the bakery that you’ve just passed.

Once you’ve noticed, focus your mind fully on the experience. Second, keep your attention on that positive experience. If your mind tries to shift away, bring it back to the deliciousness of what you are thinking, feeling, sensing, seeing or touching. Finally, visualize those lovely thoughts, sensations and emotions flowing into your entire body. See them and feel them filling you up until you are full to the brim with all that this experience has to offer.

Next week. More ways to cultivate resilience and make your crisis just a bit better.

Gratitude bestows reverence..changing forever how we experience life and the world.

John Milton