Over the past several weeks, we have looked at happiness and gratitude as we considered strategies to maintain our wellbeing in this challenging time of CoVid 19. Another factor that contributes to our welfare is the idea of resiliency.
Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and setbacks in life, having the flexibility to adapt to challenging situations, and to bounce back stronger and wiser having overcome the difficulty. It’s a mindset that says, “I’m not going to let this disappointment or setback keep me down.” So instead of dwelling on a setback and letting ourselves get stuck, we accept the situation, pull ourselves up, and choose to move on
Negative, challenging situations happen to everyone. Why are some able overcome them and thrive, while others become paralyzed or stuck unable to move past the difficulty? There are many factors that contribute to resilience.
A big part of resilience is the ability to think differently about negative experiences. “It is not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens to us that has the greatest effect on the trajectory of our lives,” says Karen Reicich in her book The Resilience Factor. Recognizing how we think about our circumstances is the first step in becoming resilient. How we think about a situation determines our response. Often our first response to a negative situation is to feel helpless, hopeless and out of control, but these thoughts are not necessarily accurate. Taking the time to look carefully at our thinking helps us respond to them in a more resilient manner. Do we jump to conclusions? Focus on the negative? Assume we know what another person is thinking? Overgeneralize what is happening to all situations? Once we notice our thinking patterns, we can slow down by taking a deep breath or calming ourselves. Then ask: Is there a more accurate way to view the situation? Do the facts support my thinking? Can I develop a contingency plan in case what I am thinking happens? Using these strategies can help us feel more in control and able to deal with the situation.
Another important aspect of resilience is the ability to persist in spite of difficulty. It is critical to realize that setbacks may not indicate failure. Instead of seeing a challenge as a dead end, make it an opportunity to gain new knowledge and insight. When early attempts don’t work in dealing with a challenge, do we give up? In the years of developing the lightbulb, Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” A less familiar Thomas Edison quote is, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try, just one more time.” Viewing disappointments or failures as part of the learning process is critical. Every setback can be opportunity learn. Don’t allow mistakes or setback to paralyze you or cause you to give up and quit. Accept what happened, learn from it and move on.
Flexibility and being willing to embracing change are also key. Being able to adapt and adjust to change are essential skills to move with the flow of life. Viewing challenges as opportunities to learn and adventures to engage in problem solving, helps us continue forward. There’s always a hidden opportunity in challenges, we just need to be able to see it with fresh eyes.
We are not victims of our circumstances. Life rarely happens in a straight line. There are hills and valleys and unexpected curves along the way. How we think about difficulties determines our reactions. We can change our thinking, learn from mistakes, and move on. Focusing on successes, being flexible and embracing change, helps us learn resilience. It just takes practice. How can you practice resilience today?
Last time, we discussed factors that contribute to happiness or our sense of wellbeing. This is especially important during this time of social distancing and increased isolation due to the Coronavirus. Many people are struggling with depression and anxiety during this uncertain time. As we discussed last time, there are some simple steps we can take to improve our mental health and wellbeing right now.
One of those simple steps is to practice gratitude. Your grandma was right. We do need to count our blessings.
Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, states that gratitude is recognizing the goodness and benefits we experience in the world and acknowledging that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We are the recipients of many gifts, big and small, from people around us and our higher power. These gifts help us achieve the goodness in our own lives.
Gratitude has powerful physical, mental and emotional benefits for those who take time to practice it. It is a powerful, proven strategy to increase happiness and life satisfaction. The benefits of practicing gratitude include physical benefits of lowered blood pressure, better sleep, and strengthening immunity. People who practice gratitude tend to exercise more and take better care of their health.
Gratitude has emotional benefits. Gratitude makes us more resilient. It promotes forgiveness and strengthens relationships. Gratitude boosts positive emotions such as optimism, enthusiasm, joy and happiness. Grateful people tend to be more connected to their community, more helpful, appreciative, compassionate and giving.
Gratitude is a choice. Often, it isn't easy and may feel unnatural and forced. Our natural tendency is to focus on and remember the negative. According to The Neuroscience of Happiness by Rick Hanson, “Our brains are Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive experiences.” The more we dwell on the positive, the more we overcome our natural tendency to only see the negative. The good news is, the more we practice gratitude, the easier it becomes.
The practice of gratitude is straightforward and uncomplicated. It is as simple as thinking about three to five things you are thankful for, sharing them with another person, or writing down in a gratitude journal. As surprising as it may seem, this daily practice can change your outlook on life and provide the benefits listed above. Learning to the habit of gratitude takes time and effort to become a natural part of your life. Eventually it will become automatic and happen without even thinking about it.
We have little control over our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond. Taking time to notice the good things—big and small—that happen in our everyday lives is a powerful tool to increase happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction. Developing an attitude of gratitude is key to developing a more positive attitude and life satisfaction. So what are you grateful for today?
What makes us happy? What truly contributes to our sense of wellbeing? During this time of social distancing when we are unable to be in our normal routine, it is important to keep in mind what actuality improves our wellbeing and happiness. As I have been working from home these past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do a little learning. Recently, I completed a free online Corsera course called the Science of Wellbeing through Yale University taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
According to research cited by Santos, the things we think will make us happy, in reality, don’t improve our wellbeing. Santos calls this “miswanting.” The things that most Americans believe will increase their happiness such as having a good job, lots of money, possessions, true love, attractive physical appearance and success do not make us as happy as we think they will. As soon as we achieve them, we want more. We adapt to the new normal, get used to having what we thought would bring happiness, the novelty wears off, and what we wanted so badly, soon becomes mundane and perhaps even boring. Familiarity does breed contempt when thinking about happiness.
So, the question is: How do we achieve true happiness? If achieving what we think will make us happy, actually doesn’t, then what will? The answers may surprise you.
According to the research presented in the Science of Wellbeing course, having social contacts increases our happiness. This is especially significant during this time of social isolation. Making a point of increasing contacts with people via phone calls or video messaging will brighten your day. Writing a letter, sending an email or text will benefit you and the recipient. Spending time with those you are social distancing with engaging in reading books, playing games, doing puzzles, cooking together, remembering past experiences, planning future experiences, sharing something you appreciate about someone will increase happiness. Even something as simple as making eye contact, smiling or waving at someone you see on the street will increase your mood and theirs as well.
Acts of kindness are another important factor. Doing something kind for someone else will increase your happiness more than doing something nice for yourself. Random acts of kindness may seem cliché, but actually improve happiness.
Taking care of yourself by getting exercise, good nutrition, and enough sleep will also increase your mood. Even changing your environment a bit, by putting unhealthy snacks in the cupboard instead of on the counter or putting fruit or healthy snacks in plain sight can improve your nutrition and wellbeing.
Participating in activities that you enjoy and find rewarding, where you lose track of time, and use your strengths is another strategy to increase your wellbeing.
Even in these days of isolation and lock-down, small things that you might not expect can brighten your day. Engaging in simple changes in your environment, your actions and thoughts can make a difference in your wellbeing and the happiness of those around you.
Next time we will discuss another aspect of happiness: Gratitude.
If you are interested in participating in free, online learning, follow this link to Corsera’s online courses: https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=free
As many of us are spending more time at home and practicing social distancing, we may find that we are entertaining ourselves with more online entertainment. In that light, I offer a review of the Netflix series DOPE.
DOPE is a three season, 12-episode docu-crime drama filmed from the perspective of drug dealers, users and police officers. It claims to be a “documentary focusing on people living both sides of the law.” Each episode is between 30 and 50 minutes long, focusing on one location or drug.
For readers who viewed the Netflix series The Pharmacist, please know that this is much harsher and more graphic. The F-word is frequently used, there are scenes from strip clubs, as well as people injecting drugs and experiencing their effects. This series is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Many will find the content offensive and dark.
In digging a little deeper, online discussions questioned whether or not the scenes were real or re-enacted. I had that same question. “Dealers” and “users” cover their faces with masks and bandanas to disguise their identities but were still recognizable. (However, there was a news story from several sources indicating the arrest of the stars of the series.) Police are shown doing surveillance, pursuit and making arrests. Dealers and users explain why they are participating in substance use.
“You’re too Innocent for this Game,” (Season 2, e. 2) focuses on methamphetamine, (also known as ice, crystal, ice cream) in Indiana. The episode starts in Terre Haute, Indiana with “shake and bake” meth labs. We are told that 80% of crime in Vigo County is drug-related. The narrator reports “thanks to low pay and poor prospects, people in rural areas are driven to seek refuge in the oblivion of meth.” In 1995 there were six known meth labs in Indiana. In 2015 there were more than 1500. But that number is rapidly decreasing as a new form of concentrated, more potent meth has started arriving from Mexico.
The focus of DOPE then shifts to a much more concentrated, potent, manufactured crystal meth imported from drug cartels to Gary, Indiana. The meth is distributed by Gary dealers using the Indiana highway system to small towns such as Muncie, Lafayette, and Lebanon. We learn some frightening facts: Crystal meth is ten times stronger than home-baked. The life expectancy of a crystal meth user is 38 years. Once people get started on meth, they just keep coming back. The Gary dealer brags, “Crystal meth is the drug of today. That’s what everybody’s using.” He says a person can stay high on the meth he sells for 48 hours.
Diana, a homeless woman in Muncie tells of her addiction to meth and what she experiences when she injects. But in 24 hours she will need more. When her next buy turns out to be rocks and not meth, she goes into withdrawal, feeling edgy, sick, horrid, miserable. A traffic stop in Terre Haute shows a man who has been a meth user for more than thirty years. The officer wonders if he will ever get clean. The recovery rate for meth is not very successful. We see the body spasms, obsessiveness and violence caused by meth.
Viewers get a sense of the desperation of those who are addicted, the blasé attitude and anxiety of those who distribute, and the frustration of the police. “You’re too Innocent for this Game,” provides a multi-faceted picture of meth trade in Indiana.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.