How is your toothache feeling today?
If you actually have a toothache (or headache or some other physical discomfort), I hope it’s feeling better. If you don’t have one, I hope it feels worse for just a second.
I’m not being sadistic, really.
If you are like me, you did not wake up this morning and declare how happy you were to not have a toothache. Or not to be grieving some kind of tragic loss. Or not to be deep in a personal drama immobilizing you with fear.
All those things happen from time to time. They have all happened to me at various points in the past several years. And when I am in such pain, such drama or dire circumstances, it is hard to think of anything else. I just want that toothache to go away. I want that person to come around and see things my way. I want a friend to get her health back.
So that toothache that you don’t have? Imagine you do have it, for just one sharp second of pain. Then another. Imagine how awful that tiny little inconvenience is—how it disrupts your thinking and can compromise your whole day. Now imagine the blessed relief you feel when it finally goes away and you are where you are right now—without that toothache.
When things like toothaches happen, they force us to pay attention—and when they pass, we celebrate.
But today, I didn’t give attention to all the joyful things that are already in place—or celebrate the cessation of pain. I didn’t celebrate what is for what it is. I didn’t acknowledge the beauty, the safety, or the love in my life.
I just laid in bed, like I do so often, thinking about the little things that were bothering me, the crappy stuff I really didn’t want to do today, the slurry of emotions that had somehow crept into my mind overnight.
I’m lazy. When I’m doing well, I tend to just coast and enjoy it—until I’m not coasting anymore. I turn to tried-and-true positive psychology tools like a gratitude journal only when I’m struggling the most. And that practice, undertaken for a few minutes before I go to bed, never fails to help ease me into a better place. Even if I don’t write them down religiously, making a mental list of what I’m grateful for reminds me of a guiding principle of positive psychology that Tal often describes as “What we appreciate, appreciates.”
In other words, what we bring into awareness will grow in value.
It’s not just through the practice of a gratitude journal that we can do this. It can happen throughout the day, over and over again. When we stop to see and acknowledge and give words to what we appreciate, we create the awareness of what’s working in our lives. Not just what’s wrong, but what’s strong.
This is especially true and powerful when we appreciate the people in our lives.
This morning, when I woke up, I made the decision to appreciate the challenges, pitfalls, and yucky feelings I had when I woke up this morning. So they grew a little. I gave them audience, and they responded with a command performance. But it could have gone differently.
Luckily for me, I had the impetus to write this today, to help remind me that there are other aspects of my life that wait politely in the wings, waiting to be appreciated—and grown.
Luckily for you, you made it this far to help remind yourself to do the same.
This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology. For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.