When was the last time you were thankful? Just think back for a second. Maybe it was only earlier today. Or maybe it’s been a while… maybe it’s hard to actually remember.
And where do you feel it when it’s there? How does your body hold it? What happens inside you when gratitude turns up?
Maybe there’s a kind of glow or a warmth or a lifting of sorts.
However you experience it, this very feeling is thought to be directly linked to happiness and wellbeing. Thought to buoy our spirits, help stave off depression, and even strengthen our sense of meaning and purpose in life. It’s considered so potent that positive psychology puts it at the heart of its theories, and has created exercises to increase gratitude (and all its knock-on effects).
So how can you awaken more of this stuff in your own life?
Do you tend to make resolutions for the new year? Or do you just let the year unravel as it will?
Either way, then what happens?
For if you take a step back and look at what happens next, there might be important patterns in the way you make promises to yourself (or not) and how you go about trying to fulfill them (or not). And who you see yourself as accordingly.
Anecdotally, apparently many of us will make a resolution, and within weeks we’re ‘breaking it.’
And then what?
If that’s you, will you use this breakage to punish or torment yourself with somehow? Will you feel bad about it? Tell yourself you’re a failure (again)? Will you hurt yourself on the sharp edges of the broken pieces? (And did you have a sneaking feeling this might happen all along?)
If that’s your pattern with resolutions, does it seem familiar in other parts of your life? Where might you have learned this from? When?
And do you inadvertently help set the whole ‘failure’ thing in motion in the first place by picking a resolution that’s too hard to reach? Too much of a stretch. Selecting improbable or impossible things and then inevitably ‘failing.’ (Again)
In the rush to the end of the year, it can be tempting to spend a lot of time looking forward:
Yet there’s also value in looking back, too.
For sometimes in looking back and taking stock, you can more clearly see the paths you’ve travelled – and get a sense of who you’re becoming as you do.
So before you close the book on 2010, lets take a moment to consult your ‘therapist within’ and review some of those pages together – and see what lessons this year might have held for you.
(You may find it helpful to write some of your responses down, to really capture any themes that arise for you).
Coping with the holiday season isn’t always easy at the best of times. But if you’ve had a hard year – a time of upheaval or illness or loss – it can be a real challenge.
In Part 1 of this post, we looked at some ideas which people felt helped them get through the darker undercurrents of the festive season. Here are some more of their tips.
Maybe they’ll spark some ideas that could support you at this time…
Let the tears come if they want
Sometimes the tension can build for weeks around this time of year, especially if it marks an important anniversary or memory for you. If you sense the tension building, sometimes people have found it helpful to ‘meet’ with the sadness regularly, to release it.
So what might it be like, in the weeks leading up to the celebrations, to regularly take some time to simply feel your sorrow, or your anger, or to cry your tears?
Maybe making an appointment with your sorrow like this can ease the pressure, and maybe even help you breathe easier on the big day.
As the end of the year rolls around, it can seem like the carols are fairly chasing you around town, many of them insisting that this is ‘the season to be jolly’.
But it is not always so.
For whatever you might celebrate at this time of year, there are also some deeper seasonal undercurrents which may draw you down into a darker, more difficult space. Sorrow or pain may also be part of your personal end-of-year traditions. And amid all the gift-giving, these are the things that are rarely unwrapped…
There are so many reasons why this time of year might be challenging for you. Maybe this is the first year since a loved-one died. Maybe your closest relationship ended recently, or is in a painful place, and you’re feeling suddenly alone. Maybe your family ties are fractured, and it just feels too raw to be together. Perhaps a painful event happened around this time of year (and every year you feel you’re re-living its echoes). Maybe you or someone you love is facing a serious illness.
Or maybe you just plan on ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘keeping the peace’ by meeting others’ expectations and celebrating with particular people, when you’d secretly prefer to be anywhere but …
Whatever difficulties this time of year might hold for you, there are ways you can help lighten the load. And in the spirit of narrative and feminist therapies – which suggest that our own stories all have important wisdoms to share – here are some ideas which clients have previously shared, which they found useful. (They might work for you, too).
I’ve found a quiet, dimly lit corner, hidden away from the world right at the back of a café. When I came in here, I was only looking for a break and a cup of tea. Yet I stumbled upon something else entirely. Inspiration…
For emblazoned across the back wall is a quote:
in the direction
of your dreams.
Live the life
you have imagined.”
– Henry David Thoreau
This handful of words, so unexpected, is somehow more warming than the cup in my hands. So much held and hinted at within them.
Not only the implicit knowledge of what your dreams might be in the first place – those secret desires and hopes that can be hard enough to find or bring into being – but also the very direction that these dreams would take you in. The course they might set you on. The paths they open to you.
And then that idea of moving towards that stuff with confidence. Sure-footedness. Grace.
Well, that seems to contain another layer entirely.
At this time of year, when resolutions and goals and plans often come up – all those plottings on the graphs of the next 365 days of our all-too-concrete adult lives – it seems so timely to be reminded of our more ethereal sides, too. Our dreams… The internal imaginings that might defy logical ‘sense’ and just passionately exist anyway.
So how do you live with your dreams?
(And how do they live with you?)
This photo captures one of those weird, inexplicable moments of synchronicity.
At the time it was taken, I was actually in my own therapy, feeling particularly lost and hurt, and trying to find a way back out of those dark places.
I remember I was on a bus on the way home, wrestling (again) with the same old stuff.
I recall asking myself:
“What do I need to get through this?”
And then suddenly, this giant hot pink neon sign swung into view as the bus turned a corner:
(Serendipity isn’t always subtle, it seems…)
If sadness is in your life, it’s often a painful thing to be around. It aches. It tends to follow you. Or it wants to be carried. It usually whispers the painful stories over and over again so you keep remembering them (and re-living them anew).
So it seems natural to want a break from sadness every now and then. To want it to leave you alone for a while. To wish you didn’t feel it. To get it gone.
Yet it’s amazing how this can sometimes create an extra layer of challenge to deal with. Extra pain. Extra burden. For you can end up sort of feeling bad about feeling sad. (And now you’ve got two emotional companions following you around – or two things to carry).
So how else can you engage with sadness? How else can you find a way to be with it? Maybe even to learn from it?
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to facilitate an ‘in conversation’ event with Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick, as we explored the idea of seeking the sacred in life, and what that might look like.
On the way there, I spotted these words on a menu board in a restaurant garden:
“Enjoy the Beauty Inside”
I’m sure it meant the beauty inside the restaurant, but it seemed a really apt thing to see just before talking about the concept of sacredness…
During that conversation, Stephanie lamented that therapy often required so much “work” and that it often seems so negatively framed. That therapy seems to need us to unravel our lives right back to the beginning and re-live all the painful bits. To dredge up the ugly past and stain the present with it somehow.
And maybe this is true, sometimes.
For in therapy’s earlier days, it started out as just such a thing.
But, thankfully, it’s grown since then.
Many therapies now also look to our future and ask us to imagine what we’d like to bring about there, and how we might do that…