What makes a day good or bad?
Do good days involve trips to Paris or pay raises? Is it a bad day because we receive a speeding ticket or lose a job? Is our happiness dependent upon our circumstances?
We often focus on our circumstances to judge our level of happiness in life. If good things happen, a raise, a dream trip, light traffic on the drive home, then we should be happy. Similarly, if bad things happen such as a speeding ticket, a stubbed toe, or the loss of a potential sale, then we are unhappy.
How Our Focus can Change our Life
Winifred Gallagher would argue our happiness is not based on our circumstances. In her book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, she tells the story of the day she was diagnosed with cancer. She realized cancer wanted to take over everything in her life, it wanted to make her life sad and fearful. However, she decided she wasn’t going to let it. Instead, she decided to focus her attention on the good things in life: “movies, walks and a 6:30 martini.”
Instead of living in constant fear, her focus was on what brought her pleasure and happiness. She found her days, despite the intrusion of cancer, were often happy and peaceful. Gallagher began researching this surprising outcome. She writes “the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”
This upends the way most people think about happiness. Many people believe our happiness is dependent upon our circumstances. Gallagher’s research shows a person’s focus has much more to do with happiness than circumstances. When we focus on the small pleasures of life, we are happier despite our circumstances.
Therefore, what we give attention and focus to, is what either gives us pleasure or sadness.
So how can our focus help us to be resilient?
A Horse and Unkind Words
Years ago, Ellie who is now 15, was badly injured while riding a horse. She spent 10 days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at a trauma hospital. In the beginning, she was angry. She asked “why me” and cried often because of her situation. At one point, frustrated with this self-pity, I told her we couldn’t change the past, but she could change her attitude. Instead of focusing on her pain, I wanted her to look for small pleasures during her day.
Ellie began to appreciate the nurses. She began making jokes with the doctors and even developed a crush on one gorgeous young intern. On our daily walks, she found pleasure in looking at the newborns and the fish tanks full of colorful creatures. She looked forward to visits from friends.
Because Ellie focused on the small pleasures of her day she now recalls this time as a positive experience. She was able to show resilience and recover from a terrible accident with a greater appreciation for her health and for her family.
What you can do right now
In the next five minutes, write down at least three things that bring you joy. These can be simple things:
- a morning cup of tea
- a walk in nature
- reading time with your toddler
- pillow talk with your spouse
- a piece of chocolate from your hidden stash
- eating lunch on the patio
- spending 20 minutes with a good book
- hugs from your children
- 15 minutes of meditation
- reading scriptures
What you can do today
Find places in your day where you can insert the simple pleasures you wrote down. When the circumstances of your day threaten to bring you down, change your focus. Focus on one of these planned simple pleasures and anticipate it. Look forward to the moment of joy.
What you can do this week
Keep a notebook beside your bed. Each night before bed write down 3-5 things that brought you joy. Science is proving this simple activity can improve our mood and improve our health.
This simple exercise trains us to be resilient. We are training ourselves to see our day as positive despite the bad things that happened.
Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
This week I’m going to focus on the pleasure of cool morning walks (before Arizona summer hits), our crazy dinner hour with silly jokes and laughter, and my quiet reading time each night before bed. These bring me joy.
Where is your focus? What are the pleasures that bring you joy every day?
Linking up with Char.