Life will always be complicated.
Life will always be miraculously simple.
So much of how we experience our lives comes down to what we choose to focus on.
Imagine this scenario: You just parked your car on the street near your office. Without looking, you open your car door, your mind full of your upcoming meetings and things you need to do. Unexpectedly, a bike messenger slams into the open car door, and tumbles to the ground.
This situation is both complicated and simple.
On the one hand, it’s easy bring blame and anger into the situation right away. The bike messenger can be upset that you didn’t check before you opened the door, and you could be upset that the bike messenger didn’t notice your door was opening. When this happens, things feel complicated. Everyone is upset, a solution seems nowhere in sight. Before you know it, the police are being called and your day gets entirely derailed.
This same situation, when looked at through a simple human-to-human relationship, becomes simple. You immediately apologize and ensure that the bike messenger is OK. He is rattled, takes a moment to collect himself, and then notices that you are also upset. He asks if you are OK, you ask if he is OK, and you are both grateful to discover that this time, everyone is OK. You ask him if he needs anything, he reassures you that he’s fine, and within minutes, he takes off on his bike.
When the foundation is empathetic, things become simpler. People feel heard. No one needs to exploit, blame, or injure the other person, because they don’t feel exploited, blamed, or hurt themselves.
Of course, this is not always easy to do. When we are distracted, busy, or stressed already, it can be difficult to stay calm and connected when things become difficult. This is why we need to protect our resilience every day. When we do, we are able to bring our humanity back into difficult situations, and bring the best out in ourselves and those with whom we interact.
Here are a few things that we can do to promote happiness and peace of mind, which in turn can help us to maintain good relationships with others.
1. Cultivate an experience of appreciation
As simple as it sounds, we can have a large impact on our lives by focusing on the things that we appreciate. In every moment, even our worst moments, there are things that are there to be appreciated. Usually, we aren’t in our worst moments! Cultivating an experience of appreciation is building a habit of seeking out the good and holding on to it with intention.
The weather is bright and sunny and you are grateful for the warm breeze on your skin.
Or the weather is cold and frigid, and you are grateful for the thick gloves around your hands.
Or the weather is windy and rainy and you are grateful for the clear umbrella which gives you a view of the leaves whipping through the sky.
No matter what is happening in the external world, you can choose to focus on what you appreciate. These things can be big or small, you can appreciate others or yourself. Even your struggles and efforts are worthy of appreciation; without them you wouldn’t grow or challenge yourself.
2. Feel your feelings, and then release them
For some of us, it’s difficult to allow ourselves to feel negative feelings at all. We worry that we will get stuck in them, and don’t want to be overwhelmed. For others of us, the hard part is to release the negative feelings once we feel them. We may find ourselves ruminating in repetitive negative thoughts, struggling to feel calm. The goal is to avoid giving power to any state that prevents peace.
There is no one who feels good all the time. It’s appropriate to feel disappointment, anger, resentment and frustration when things don’t go your way. It’s important to allow yourself to mourn your injuries and allow yourself to feel upset. When this happens, though, remember to love and appreciate yourself exactly as you are. Life is full of many experiences. Don’t get captured by any one of them to your detriment.
Once a negative emotion has been felt, you can release it because you don’t need it anymore. It will likely not serve you to hold onto it.
Notice the world around you.
Notice parts of yourself that are not about that emotion.
Take an interest in other people, notice what is happening around you. This will help you disengage from the negative emotion and re-engage with something neutral or positive. Interacting with other people is particularly helpful. Of course, it’s nice to interact with our friends and family, but even casual interactions with others as you go through your day can help us to remember we are all part of something larger than ourselves.
3. Have role models for motivation, optimism, and grit
It can be very helpful to look to other people for examples of what’s possible. It can feel isolating at times to struggle and tempting to see our situation as overwhelming.
At times like these, look to those who have come before you. Whether you are looking to actual people, stories from literature or movies, or even song lyrics, the world has insight and inspiration that you can draw from and feel less alone.
Who do you know who has gone through something similar and is feeling better? What can you learn from their story about how to rise above, persevere and overcome? Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek support.
4. Develop distress tolerance
Distress tolerance is our ability to experience negative emotion without being overwhelmed by it. This is a skill set that develops through practice, so make the time to practice!
- On days when you are feeling good, appreciate your experience and allow it to bolster you on hard days.
- When someone criticizes you, allow yourself to feel hurt or angry, but then open to the idea that there may be a kernel of truth in it..
- Intentionally challenge your thinking, seeking to understand those who disagree with you.
- When you feel distressed, allow it to inform you. What is present that needs to be felt, experienced, and understood? Distress is information that is here to help you grow.
Distress is part of life, and the ability to experience pain without resistance is a good thing. When we acknowledge and learn from our distress, it will move through us more quickly.
Lots of people report feeling stressed “all the time.” If you find yourself feeling tense, rigid, or overwrought, you need to take some time to physically and emotionally relax. To physically relax you can focus on your breathing, or do a body scan where you bring your attention to your muscles, or the sensation of your skin. Doing a 5 minute body scan or deep breathing exercise can help you release tension that you have stored in your body. Finally, the practices of meditation and breathwork can be powerful vehicles for peace of mind.
It can also be helpful to release tension from your mind. To do this, you want to bring your attention to something other than your worries or concerns. You can look at animals, notice the weather, gaze at the sky, or browse through art. Doing this intentionally can give you a break from your stress.
We live in complex times, but that doesn’t mean that we have to feel stressed all the time. When you recognize the role that you play in your own peace of mind, you can choose to experience more peace. If you want help doing so, therapy can be a very illuminating experience. I would love to help you live your best life even during these difficult times.