At this time of year, there is a natural tendency to get a little more introspective. Folks will reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Some may stop to consider what has happened, both good and bad. They may think about what they have, don’t have, or what they want. It is natural to do a personal inventory of one’s life during meaningful holidays or after milestone moments or major events.
However, in tough times, there is a danger that such an exercise can do more emotional harm than good. Anyone that has experienced a major loss – due to a natural disaster, illness, career setback, business challenge or personal problem – may find taking a personal inventory depressing. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, some deep, personal reflection can help bring into focus what is most important and provide fuel to move forward with purpose. As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.” Even in tough times – especially in tough times – it is important to look not at the doors that have closed but at the ones that are opening.
Above and Beyond Trials
Of course, it is certainly more difficult to count blessings during tough times. Such low points in life were dubbed “the reality slap” by Russ Harris, a psychotherapist and author. In his book titled “The Reality Slap: Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts”, Harris says that in life bad things happen to everyone. Every person experiences what he calls “the reality slap”. Then, after the reality slap comes “the reality gap”. The reality gap consists of the reality we have on one side and the reality we want on the other side. The bigger the chasm between the two realities, the more painful it is. The only way to bridge the gap is to find inner fulfillment… fulfillment that isn’t based on material things or external factors.
Even in the midst of confusion, pain or suffering, the one thing that is in each person’s control is the choice in how to react to those circumstances. They key is to avoid either becoming mired in a pity party or pretending that everything is fine. Here are some suggestions to help count blessings and go above and beyond trials.
1. Separate ‘You’ from your ‘Problems’
The problems or things going wrong in life do not define who you are. You are not your problems. When you find yourself thinking “My life is nothing but problems,” say to yourself (aloud if necessary) “I am not my problems.”
2. Envision a New Reality
Consider what you want to happen in your life. Focus on that; not what is actually happening in your life. See that vision. Share it. Imagine how that will feel.
3. Have Faith
When bad or scary things happen, consider that even in those times, things are unfolding as they should. Try to find the blessing in the situation.
4. Extend your Focus
During tough times, it helps to remember that ‘this too shall pass.’ Change is the one thing that is constant in life. Consider that the mountain before you today will be a molehill behind you a year from now. Think about a previous trial in your life that seemed insurmountable then but is nothing more than a memory now.
5. Do for Others
The fastest way to get through tough times is to spend time helping someone else. It helps to be busy. Consider ways that you can be of service to someone else. Doing for others not only feels good, but it is a good reminder that everyone has challenges to overcome.
6. Let Others Do for You
During tough times, it helps to be surrounded by supportive people, whether they are family, friends or coworkers. Give the gift of allowing the people around you to help you. That begins by admitting when something is wrong or when you need help. If nothing else, when you cannot see the forest for the trees, your network can remind you of all the possibilities in life.
7. Write your Blessings
Create a Blessings Journal. Each day add to the Journal things for which you are grateful. At first, this may seem hard especially during tough times. An easy way to start is with the basics. For example, be thankful for having sight and the ability to hear. Consider those who have lost their vision or hearing. Try this. Imagine how difficult life would be without eyesight. What would you miss? Imagine not being able to read books, see the facial expressions of loved ones, watch a sunset or drive a car. Now look around and notice five things you can see. Linger on each item for several seconds. Notice its shape, color and texture. Notice patterns or markings. Notice how the light reflects off them, or the shadows they cast. Notice their contours, their outlines, and whether they are moving or still. Look at each item with the curiosity of a child seeing it for the first time. Once you have finished, take a moment to consider just how much your eyes add to your life and what the gift of vision affords you. Write this down in your Blessings Journal.
Be grateful for having clean water. Consider people who don’t have access to potable water. Think about the millions who have to travel miles to extract water from wells. Imagine the amount of time and energy they expend for something you have in abundance. Write this down in your Blessings Journal.
Consider the multitude of basic gifts and blessings you enjoy every day. As you list more blessings, this exercise will become easier. In a year, you will have an entire notebook of reminders of all of the blessings in your life.
8. Be Present
When life is tough, negative thoughts can take over. The result is that people go on autopilot, missing the true richness of life. It is hard to acknowledge blessings when going through the motions without being truly engaged. To help be ‘in the moment’ and really find the pleasure in the little things, try this. Each day, pick a simple, pleasurable activity — ideally one that you tend to take for granted or perform on autopilot — and see if you can extract every last sensation of pleasure out of it. This might include hugging a loved one, stroking your cat, walking your dog, playing with your kids, eating a meal, listening to favorite music, taking a walk in the park — you name it. Don’t try activities that cause you to get lost in your thoughts, such as reading or playing a game. As you do this activity, use your fives senses to be fully present: notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell and savor every aspect of it.
9. Clarify your Values
Use tough times as an opportunity to clarify what you value and identify what really matters most. Try answering these questions:
- What truly matters to me, deep in my heart?
- What do I stand for as I use my time on this planet?
- What sort of human being do I want to be?
- How do I want to behave toward myself, others and the world around me?
- What personal qualities do I want to cultivate?
10. Recognize the Privilege
It is important to experience life as a privilege. Consider that simply being alive provides valuable opportunities to connect, care, contribute, love, learn and grow. Treating life as a privilege means to seize that opportunity — to appreciate it, embrace it and savor it. Appreciating life doesn’t mean pretending that nothing is ever wrong. It is about acknowledging what is wrong without losing sight of all that is still right.
It’s been said that the real measure of wealth is how much one would be worth after losing all one’s money. It is important to understand that ‘counting’ blessings is not about counting money or material possessions. It is about taking an inventory of all of the good in one’s life. Doing these things will help to get beyond or move above the trials and tribulations, even in tough times…. especially in tough times. When all else fails, remember that although these difficulties seem like marathons, even marathons do eventually end.
Quote of the Week
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” Oscar Wilde
© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.