The holidays are a stressful time for many people. Despite the constant cheer shown in advertisements, many people struggle with stress from travel, finances, dealing with difficult family members and other mental burdens. Do not worry! I will not rehash the old cliché “focus on what you have, not what you don’t have” because I get it, you want to hear something fresh and something new. Let’s look at some ways that you can come to a place of gratitude, even in uncomfortable situations or negative emotional states.
It’s not about dancing around, always being happy without a care in the world because let’s be honest, life isn’t always how we want it to be and everyone experiences struggle. It would be naïve and dishonest to pretend that everything is good all the time. To get to an authentically good place, we have to be real with what is happening and what things are coming up for us, even if they are uncomfortable and the last thing you wanted to confront. Here are some ways you can take what is happening (ideal or un-ideal) and use it to your advantage.
Reflect on where you have been
This has been huge for me. Most people tend to look at how far they have to go still but they haven’t looked at how far they’ve come. Humans have the tendency to just want to trudge forward and get to the end because they have this idea that at the finish line, that is what holds what they’ve been working for and what they’ve always desired. Our growth tends to happen subtly, but the effects and changes build up day by day to the point where you might see an old friend and they ask, “What have you been doing? Something’s different about you.” I have found reflecting has helped me immensely.
There are many ways you can do this, of which I will give you some examples. Let’s say you had a past injury, a poor relationship or a mental health struggle or something you have been working on… For me personally, my past anxiety comes to mind. When a new tough situation comes up that seems impossible, I say, “I’ve been through something like this, if not more challenging than this, and now I am a stronger person. My challenging past experience has prepared me with the tools to handle this next one with more faith, ease and grace.” It's a heck of a lot easier to move forward when you realize just how much you’ve conquered in the past and how that one mountain, that seemed so high to you in the past, seems like just a small pebble in the distance. Why would this mountain in front of you be any different?
Affirmations are becoming much more popular in today’s age, as we are seeing a heightened spike in awareness, positivity and mindfulness. It allows you to say what you want in your life, so that it can manifest itself in your life. It’s like writing down your new year’s resolutions and putting it on your fridge, or marking something in your calendar; it is concrete and definite. You have to put it out there and say what you want in order to truly receive it. Recent research has studied how powerful the mind is, and we continuously underestimate how much our thoughts impact the world we see around us. If you could positively influence your thoughts by cultivating more positive and serving beliefs that could then translate into you seeing the wonderful in a brighter, more colorful way, would you want that? Well, doesn’t that just sound nice?
Click here for a list of positive affirmations.
Take a second and stop
Have you ever realized that you have the most enjoyable time when you are at peace, just sitting with a feeling? It might be something small or grand but it happens in a place of stillness. It might be sitting in the sand looking at the ocean, watching your children play, the moment after a workout class, during a meditation or restorative yoga class, the moment when you realized you aced your exam or received that promotion. These are all moments in time that you can capture and sit with. Really relish in the moment and don’t let it pass you by. There’s a reason why the phrase “Kodak Moments” is a thing. J
What’s great about today?
Give to give, and not just to receive.
One of my favorite mentors Jamil Sayegh told me that if you give to give, without expectations, you will get it back from some source. It might look like giving to someone that only treats you poorly in return or makes you feel underappreciated, but the world gives back in ways like a free espresso shot, or someone acknowledging a Facebook post you wrote and how it spoke to him or her personally. Suffering comes when you expect to receive from the person you are giving to. You have no idea what they are going through or what is affecting their ability to treat you with anything but love and kindness. Have compassion for their struggles and be cognizant of whom deserves to be in your life and accept people where they are at in life.
Accept what is
We tend to feel negatively towards what is happening in our lives, but the truth is, it’s already happening and it’s already here. So, what can be done? You can either go kicking or screaming to resist the pain and negativity because you do not like what it is and you “believe you deserve better than this,” OR you can free yourself from pain and think “hmm… well it’s already happening, so I might as well make the best out of this situation.”
Flip a less than ideal situation on its head
Some ways to make the best out of it is to see what’s good about the situation, what the lesson in it is, and what is causing you to feel pain. I have even gone as far as to laugh at the absurdity of life, which is something Anne Novak (a well-known Kundalini Yoga teacher) taught me. For example, there have been times where “everything just seems to go wrong,” such as when:
- Someone almost hits me on the road
- I forget my wallet
- I have 5 exams next week after my birthday
- The guy I like isn’t texting me back
- Someone was rude to me today even though I only gave them kindness
- I ate something that did not agree with me
- And many more…
It builds to a point where something else gets piled on and you are like, “OH, BUT OF COURSE! Bring it on life! What else do I have to expect?” From that, you kind of laugh at your own bad luck. It is like the saying, “If you don't laugh, you’ll cry,” and then you can be grateful for this awareness. You basically turn an unideal situation into something ideal by having awareness for what is happening and know you can control your reaction to it.
Learn from today, apply it to tomorrow
I get it. Some days are just tough, you do not want to do any of the above things, and you do not feel like making anything better just yet, so what now? It is helpful to really internalize what you didn’t like about that day or how you would have liked to do it differently, so that you can act better and be smarter in the future! For example, I overate one time at a birthday party and felt absolutely terrible afterwards. I would blame, shame and guilt myself in my head saying, “Why did you think this was a good idea? Haven’t you learned from the time before? Has this EVER worked out well for you?” Instead, I have been able to shift into a compassionate place saying, “You did the best you could at the time, with the knowledge and awareness you had. Now you know how awful it feels, so let’s take a mental note to act more mindfully next time.” Once I got to this place, I was able to propel myself into lifestyle changes that I have been trying to switch to for the longest time, such as staying consistent with gym workouts, eating more mindfully, doing an Elimination Diet and even a juice cleanse.
I find that for me personally, moments of contrast really help you to decide what kind of life you want to live and what kinds of behaviors you do not want to choose for yourself anymore. With this awareness, you can change any “learning opportunity” into something that truly and wonderfully benefits you. You can absolutely feel grateful for this next power to choose how you want situations to affect you.