Hang A Different Fly Strip, Yo!

“When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.”
Shawn Achor

As we’ve talked about on this blog several times, our brains are wired to focus on the negative. This is quite beneficial in terms of survival but extremely detrimental in our relationships.

 

Research indicates that we are bombarded with millions of bits of information every second yet we are only capable of processing about 40 bits of that information. If you are really interested in how this process works, you should read the book Before Happiness by Shawn Achor.

We need to train our brains to focus on the 40 bits of positive information as opposed to its natural inclination to look for the danger or bad bits of information. How do we do this? We hang a different fly strip! Do you remember those nasty old fly strips that would hang in attics or old homes covered in flies? If you don’t, trust me, they are nasty. The purpose of these strips was to attract flies and they would stick to the paper as opposed to buzzing around the house.

“Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals.”
Shawn Achor

Our brains default is essentially a negative story fly strip. This then attracts the 40 bits of information that support that negative story. But, we can hang a positive story fly strip by making it a point to focus on and notice all the positive things about our lives, our partners, our jobs, our children, and so on. We know the magic ratio is 5 positives to 1 negative (Gottman and other researchers). What this means, is that for every ONE negative you must highlight FIVE positives in order to feel good about your life (and relationship and job)

In our relationships this means we need to highlight the five positives about the person to any negatives (because nobody is perfect). In healthy relationships, partners say how much they appreciate the little things as often as they can so that when they have a problem the other partner knows the person is coming from a place of love as opposed to “another complaint” or “I’ll never be enough.”

This is much more possible than most people think. There is so much more good in your life than you probably believe.

So go! Hang a different fly strip! Go out and seek evidence to support that your life is great and your partner is awesome and over time you will notice that those bits of information will more naturally “stick” to you and come your way. Say thank you, I love you, I appreciate you, out loud as often as you can. Take a moment right now and think about all the good things in your life. Start looking for the good flies! They are right there in that warm cup of coffee and that roof over your head.

This approach is solidly rooted in science. You have the ability to change your life right now by changing what you focus on in the life you are already living.


“We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”
Shawn Achor

 

 

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Lazy Welfare People.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Mother Teresa

My frustration has reached a fever pitch as we enter a new political season. Particularly in terms of the lack of compassion we demonstrate towards one another. I know we talked about this some yesterday but I’m not done talking about this stuff yet. As a therapist, I work in the field of “this should not have happened to me” reality so let me highlight a few things for you.

You are one bad day away from needing public assistance. Even more, you are one moment away from needing public assistance.

In one moment, you can be hit by a car, get laid off, or have a serious health crisis making it impossible for you to work (possibly ever again). This is reality. If this happens, you may be saddled with (hundreds) of thousands of dollars in medical bills and need the support of unemployment benefits, disability insurance, and/or medicaid/medicare. You will have crossed over into “lazy welfare people.” And, if you have a family, your family will suffer and possibly need the assistance as well.

Maybe you are saying to yourself, my family will help me. Yes, I hope they will but I think you would be shocked at how fast the bills add up and the toll this takes on a family. This is why we have public assistance programs. 

Maybe this has happened to you or someone you love but “you are the exception” it is the other people that “abuse the system” but not you or your loved ones. I’m sorry for what has happened to you, but you are not the exception, you are the reality. You deserve compassion and support because you’re human not because you are the exception or better than another person that needs support and compassion.

We’ve made needing support shameful. In doing this, we have to excuse our own circumstances by blaming “the people that abuse the system” to make ourselves feel better about needing help. We should not do this to ourselves or one another. Each case is unique and we all deserve love and compassion.

Maybe you are fortunate enough not to need food assistance or health care assistance (medicaid/medicare). But, not every one is “blessed” or “lucky” and working a minimum wage job is not going to support a family. And, you’re not willing to raise the wages for these people. Well, damn, there is no path out of poverty with this logic. Thus, people continue to need assistance.

They should work harder? How much harder (more than 40+ hours a week in many cases) should a human have to work to deserve just a decent life?

Go to college? Oh, yeah, and get pounded with thousands of dollars in student loan debt that is impossible to pay off. That plan doesn’t seem to work well anymore either.

Hello, American Dream? Are you still there?

Let the church help, it’s their role? I once spent an entire day calling churches in my community to help a family in desperate need. I received nothing but excuses as to why they were not able to assist this family. This is reality. If this worked it would be incredible but some churches (not all) are filled with people who believe that compassion is reserved for “the deserving” that meet certain qualifications. Definitely, not the ones that “abuse the system.” Of course, there are wonderfully compassionate people and churches doing amazing things to make the world a better place.

My lovelies, before you judge “lazy welfare people” that drain the system. Please, pause, and look in the mirror. I promise, you are one moment away from being a “lazy welfare person” and I promise you will want the compassion when that happens.

Maybe I can’t convince you that you are a vulnerable human and at risk of suffering, if that’s true might you consider: Who do you think you are judging another person’s needs and suffering? You don’t know how it feels to be the person that needs assistance. You don’t know their story or their private struggles. Who are you to say who is deserving of support and who is not?

I pray that moment never comes for you or someone you love but statistics don’t lie and the likelihood of you or someone you love experiencing a life-changing event is incredibly high. I’m not encouraging you to live a life of fear but rather one that is more mindful of the delicacy of life. And, one that is more compassionate to the “lazy welfare people.”

Let’s be better. Let’s be kinder. Let’s be more compassionate. 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Leo Buscaglia

Love.

 

What Are You So Mad About?

“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others– it only changes yours.”
Shannon L. Alder, 300 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before It’s Too Late

(note: writing/researching this post put me in a negative funk. that is the power of anger.)

Research suggests that we are more compassionate with others than we are with ourselves (Dr. Kristin Neff says so). If that’s the case, then we have a serious problem. If you look at any article online you will see that people are primed and ready to fight. We struggle to give anyone the benefit of the doubt or to extend compassion to the people we love the most.

For example, I picked an article on dropping pizza prices to review comments. A topic I thought we could all agree is a great thing, right? Nope. Here are some of the comments I found associated with the article:

Since neither of those qualify as “Pizza” anywhere where real food is available, they should change this headline.

I noted that you have to buy an overpriced side to get one deal.  You have to pay a couple bucks for a drink that costs them a few pennies to get the deal.  Or rather the rip off.

Bet on this…as the price goes down, so does the quality.  And whatever happened to one of the essential pizza ingredients, anchovies. Can’t find a pizza with anchovies anywhere.

If we can’t get behind deals on pizza, is there any hope for us? Seriously, we are so combative and defensive that we pick fights about anything and everything. I made the mistake of reading comments on a political article posted on social media. Apparently the gloves are off online. People cuss each other out, call each other names, make vile comments about groups of people. To what end?

You have to walk around in that skin holding onto those awful and angry thoughts. Those thoughts and feelings will rot you from the inside out. I’ve seen it happen. People come to me wondering why they are so lonely and sad. Then, I hear them call their partner an idiot. They say their son is a worthless piece of garbage. And, the world is going to hell (in a handbag).

Are you really asking me why you’re miserable? Because it sounds like you just answered your own question. 

I think the outrage around things like pizza prices stems from peoples’ unhappiness with their own lives. I think that a lot of people are unhappy at home with their family and they extend that anger and resentment to larger systems. There is a negative energy created when sitting around talking about “idiot republicans” or “idiot democrats.” For a moment, one may feel superior, like they somehow figured it all out. Of course, it is short lived because no one has any of this figured out.

We think it’s acceptable to call our partners “the old ball and chain” or “the nag” or “the worthless idiot.” I suppose if you have no problem calling the people you love names why would you have a problem calling someone online an asshole.

Naturally, I’d be lying if I said I did not participate in angry talk. But, I know it is ultimately a reflection of my own well-being as opposed to a constructive means to an end. The moment I express anger the other person gets defensive and stops listening. This turns the conversation into an argument and leads nowhere.

There is definitely a time and place for anger. If you are witness to the abuse of people or animals, this should make you angry. But, that anger needs to be channeled into action or it turns to rage. The lovely Una Henry once helped me understand the difference between anger and rage. She said anger is how anyone would react in the face of injustice and rage is what happens when the injustice continues without end. For many oppressed groups, the rage is justified. But, rage is like anger in that it will destroy you.

I suppose I’m asking you to consider what you are honestly so mad about. Is it the quality of pizza? Is it traffic? Is it the weather? Is politics? Or, is it that your life is not where you want it to be and it is easier to rage against pizza and politics than to examine your misery and do something about it?  Is it a helplessness? If so, maybe reach out for support or try to do something to right the injustices. Or, risk letting hate, anger, and rage ravage you and your life. It’s your choice.

“When we get angry, we suffer. If you really understand that, you also will be able to understand that when the other person is angry, it means that she is suffering. When someone insults you or behaves violently towards you, you have to be intelligent enough to see that the person suffers from his own violence and anger. But we tend to forget. We think that we are the only one that suffers, and the other person is our oppressor. This is enough to make anger arise, and to strengthen our desire to punish. We want to punish the other person because we suffer. Then, we have anger in us; we have violence in us, just as they do. When we see that our suffering and anger are no different from their suffering and anger, we will behave more compassionately. So understanding the other is understanding yourself, and understanding yourself is understanding the other person. Everything must begin with you.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh

Love.

The Parent Drought.

Drought – a prolonged absence of something specified.

I’ve been functionally an orphan for close to sixteen years. For the most part, I’ve adapted pretty well to life without parents. I think the hardest time to manage this was after my grandfather passed away and I was left with little to no real parenting support. Even then, I figured it out.

I must say that I am particularly starved for parental support right now. I’m faced with decisions and indecisiveness that are personal and stressful. They are the types of questions that burden even the best of friends and partners (I know because I’ve called their offices to talk it through again and again).

It is in these moments that I experience “the parent drought.” I have a desperate ache to talk with someone that only wants the best for me. My current problem is not a bad one to have by any measure, but it requires someone to only want what’s best for me. For many people, this is particularly burdensome. We live in a competitive world. I feel like (good) parents have the unique perspective to see a path that other people just cannot see.

I am achingly aware of my lack of parents right now. This doesn’t happen often but when it does it is the worst kind of loneliness. I suppose it will be fine as these things always work themselves out. I’m confident that I have adequate support and self-awareness to move me through these decisions.

I appreciate the people in my life that openly and readily answer calls and sit with my ambivalence. I know it is normal to wish I had parental support. I would say I am having a bit of a pity party related to being an orphan and feeling a little with out an anchor.

This post has no conclusion because, well, there is no way to tie together laces that aren’t there.

Love.

“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.”
Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans

 

Right Now.

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” Eckhart Tolle

I reminded someone yesterday that most of the “right nows” of our life are just fine. Of course, there are some not fine moments sprinkled in but for the most part a majority of the “right nows” are simply, just fine.

It helps to plant your feet, take several deep breaths, and remind yourself “right now I’m safe and right now I’m fine (or maybe even happy, healthy, loved).” It helps to do that several times throughout your day. Often our threat response is triggered and we are ripped from the right now into the “what if” or the “what was.” When this happens, pause, breathe, and remind yourself, “right now, I’m safe.”

If right now is not fine, breathe, and let the moment move into a just fine moment. Remind yourself, like all of the other not fine moments before this one, “this too shall pass.”

Love.

 

 

 

I’m A Quitter And A Failure!

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.”
Osayi Osar-Emokpae, Impossible Is Stupid

Preface: After I wrote the first draft of this post I received a rejection letter from a popular blog site saying my submissions were too divisive. The rejection was and is painful and I remembered how hard it is to move through those painful emotions.

What is rejection?

When people come to me “scared of rejection” I try to understand exactly what that means. For example, people are often scared to ask someone to spend time together or to ask for a raise. What if they say no? What if I get rejected. The only real choice you have on those moments is to pack up your feelings and move along.

I think we spend too much time trying to be something we’re not to fit something that doesn’t fit. This goes for relationships with partners and friends. This goes for employment or education. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit, and it’s okay to move on and try something else. Go on ahead and change course!

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was certain that I wanted to be a professor and researcher. I tried to shove myself into that lifestyle for three long and painful years. In many ways, the universe tried to tell me it wasn’t a good fit. I started losing hair. I drank a lot of box wine (I get heartburn thinking of it). I got accused of things I did not do. But, I pushed ahead.

Then, I experienced a significant life trauma (while doing an internship with dying cancer patients) and I finally got the message. I was trying to be someone I was not. Although I could do research, I didn’t like doing research. In fact, I hated it. I hated it very much. The culture was not a good fit for me. The writing was not my style. The world was not my world. My body was literally rejecting the entire situation.

I realized that it wasn’t me and it wasn’t them (it was kind of them but that’s a different story). It was more that it was not a good fit for me. I was a round peg and they were a square hole. It was never going to work and I needed to stop wasting my life trying to be someone I wasn’t. So, I let go (or quit or failed or whatever).

It was the best decision ever. I stopped trying to be someone I was not and got about the business of being someone I wanted to be. I started paying closer attention the messages in my environment. Now, I work an incredible job filled with wonderful people. I share time with friends and family that support me, appreciate me, and want to be with me.

Although, some may say I failed or quit, I don’t tell my story that way. Instead, I chose a healthier path that was a better fit. And, I am so much happier for having done this. What I learned was: Let it go! If it doesn’t serve your life – let it go. People, jobs, cars, houses, cities, any of it. Let it go. Be willing to let go of things and circumstances that are not healthy or no longer serve your life.

Let go of the idea of rejection. If someone doesn’t want to spend time with you – fine, let them go. Don’t waste your time trying to be with someone that doesn’t want you just the way you are. If you don’t get the job you want – fine, let it go. Find a job where they appreciate how incredible you are. It’s not rejection it’s a message that you are going the wrong way! 

I think the only reason I was accepted into research hell was to meet my husband. I should have grabbed him the moment I met him and ran the other way. Anyway, you live and you learn.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
Ann Landers

Love.

 

 

I Need An Attitude Adjustment.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Humans are the only species (that we know of) capable of conscious self-awareness. Meaning, I am able to notice that I am having a thought or a feeling and I am able to observe my actions with some objectivity. Even though we can do this, we spend little time reflecting on these capabilities. When we use our self-awareness, we can stop acting like thoughtless reactive robots and start acting like conscientious deliberate individuals.

One of the best expositions related to the topic of self-awareness is demonstrated in A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a Jewish man and trained psychiatrist in Nazi Germany. His life, and beliefs about life, changed radically after he was forced to live in a concentration camp. Frankl endured the kind of suffering and Hell that words most certainly fail to capture. However, here is my best effort:

What we as people are capable of doing to one another is horrifying. I refuse to excuse the behavior as evil, because in doing so the responsibility is removed from the offending party and positioned in the hands of demons or the devil (unpunishable spirits and forces). We as individuals are answerable for our actions or inactions.

Frankl, while imprisoned, realized that even in the most atrocious conditions, a person still has the capacity to choose their attitude. When he shifted his focus from his own personal suffering to helping others in the camp or daydreaming about his wife (with the understanding that she was probably dead) and how much he loved her, he was able to feel hopeful about his situation. At one point, he was given the opportunity to escape, but elected to stay and help sick prisoners.

What does it mean to choose your attitude? 

  • We may not always have control over our circumstances and they may not always be ideal. In some cases, we may be exposed to horrific situations.
  • We cannot control how something makes us feel but/and just because we feel bad, sad, mad, angry, etc does not mean we have to remain stuck in that feeling. We know that feelings, even the scariest, will eventually pass and a different feeling will fill the space. The best thing to do is to comfort yourself when you have those feelings. The worst thing to do is to say, “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
  • We cannot control the thoughts that come into our heads but we can choose to spend more time with the thoughts that bring us more contentment. For example, the thought “I am not good enough” may come into your head if you make a mistake. It is okay to just notice you are having that thought and remind yourself that you are human and doing the best you can. It’s best to try and let each thought pass like puffy clouds floating in the sky. We have an estimated 50,000 per day. So, give yourself a break and let them float on through without grabbing on and analyzing them.
  • When we focus on helping and loving others, our circumstances are instantly improved. We are moved out of our own heads and into the outside world.

Let me try to provide you a practical example of this in action:

Imagine my boss comes into my office and says:  “Sissy, you made a mistake”

I do not have control of my immediate thoughts and feelings.

Immediate feelings: shame, fear, sadness, and anger

Immediate thoughts: I’m bad at my job, I’m a bad person, My boss is a bad person, I hate my boss, I hate my job, I need to get out of here as soon as possible

Immediate physical feelings: stomachache, chest tightens, breath shallow, shaking, eyes well up with tears.

I do have control over how I respond to my immediate thoughts and feelings.

I can just notice that I am having a lot of strong thoughts and feelings. I can take a few deep breaths and pause to collect myself. I can put my hand on my stomach to comfort the stress. I can comfort myself by reminding myself that I am doing the best I can. And, I can do all of this without my boss noticing.

I can ask my boss questions about what she means to better understand what happened. I can call my partner or a friend after I talk with my boss and ask for support (maybe have a good cry). I can take it easy the rest of the day (or more) until the issue is resolved and I feel better. I can get out of my own head and interact with people I love in an effort to remind myself that I am loved.

Often times, we do not pause between event/trigger and reaction. We walk around like raw exposed nerves reacting to each and every trigger in our environment without pausing to consider what is the healthiest response to this situation.

If Viktor Frankl can find hope in a concentration camp, you can find hope in your current situation. If you slow down, notice how you are thinking and what you are feeling, address these thoughts and feelings with compassion, and focus on loving and helping others you will transform your life. I promise.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor E. Frankl

Love.

 

You Deserve That Awesome Love.

“If it’s magic
Then why can’t it be everlasting
Like the sun that always shines
Like the poets in this rhyme
Like the galaxies in time
If it’s pleasing
Then why can’t it be never leaving
Like the day that never fails
Like on seashores there are shells
Like the time that always tells
It holds the key to every heart
Throughout the universe
It fills you up without a bite
And quenches every thirst…”

I recently manifested a person into being. I wished, begged, and prayed for one of my favorite people to find awesome love and awesome love presented herself. I know that the idea of manifesting a person into being sounds super crazy, and of course, I know that I did not create a person with my thoughts (but I can’t help but think that it is a little true). There is nothing more important to me than the people I love having love. I want awesome love for my lovelies because I believe that love is everything. Unconditional love is transformative and healing beyond what any of us can comprehend. Love is the magic of the universe. 

What is this post about? It’s about believing you deserve that awesome kind of love. It’s about believing you deserve it. So when it presents itself, you believe it is there for you. This is what happened to one of my favorite people in the world. He struggled for a lifetime to believe he deserved that awesome kind of love. This meant that awesome love passed him by again and again.

Instead, other types of mangled and distorted connections were offered. We attract connections that reflect our own health and well-being. If I believe I’m mangled and distorted, I will attract mangled and distorted. If I believe I am awesome love, awesome love will find its way to me. 

After years of hard work, the awesome love appeared. Even then, the awesome love scared the stuffing out of my person and he pushed it away. However, this time, he realized what he was doing and pulled it back in. He wanted the good love. He was ready for that awesome love. 

“So
If it’s special
Then with it why aren’t we as careful
As making sure we dress in style
Posing pictures with a smile
Keeping danger from a child
It holds the key to every heart
Throughout the universe
It fills you up without a bite
And quenches every thirst…”

That awesome love is not reserved for perfect people (because they don’t exist). It is reserved for people who believe that awesome love is real. It is reserved for people who are willing and ready to be that awesome kind of love for someone else. It is the kind of love that, when you see it between two people you just know it’s real.

It’s not about soul mates (although I have theories about this). It’s about vulnerability. It’s about letting yourself be open. It’s about listening and compassion. This post isn’t about research or theories, love is bigger than that. I know awesome love is real for no other reason than I can feel it in my guts. In my life, that is more than enough evidence.

Anyway, I wanted awesome love for my person more than anything. I wished, prayed, and hoped this for him. I don’t know if those things are real (just kidding, I am certain they are real). Who knows if the awesome love will go the distance. It’s here now and, that my lovelies is magic. 

“So
If it’s magic
Why can’t we make it everlasting
Like the lifetime of the sun
It will leave no heart undone
For there’s enough for everyone”

– Stevie Wonder, If It’s Magic

Love.

I Don’t Own My Story.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.”
Nadeem Aslam, The Wasted Vigil

In a lot of the posts I reference having experienced traumatic events. For some readers, they may have some ideas about what happened. But for others, they don’t have a reference or understanding of my life. I understand through messages and responses that some readers may want to know what I’m referring to when I allude to experiencing traumatic events. This has caused me to reflect on the interconnectedness of my life.

I agree that we must own our stories or our stories own us. The problem with sharing many of my stories is that they involve other people. And, other people don’t want/need/think it’s appropriate to share their stories with the world. This blog is both cathartic and difficult for me. Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world. Most of these blogs are letters to myself that I’ve decided to share. And, there are plenty of posts in the drafts box that will never see the light of social media.

There is a constant balance when sharing parts of yourself with an unknown group of people. I feel compelled to be transparent and honest but at the same time I don’t think it is appropriate to overshare. My beloved Josh once helped me understand this process. We were talking about a time that someone shared a traumatic event with him and he said, “They never asked my permission to share that.” That stuck with me. I don’t want this blog to be traumatizing and so there are times when restraint is indicated.

Further, as a human being, I’ve made mistakes. This blog is not a confessional. I am not writing for absolution or understanding. I believe that would put undue pressure on the reader. When I began sharing these posts publicly, I explored how authors that write memoirs decide what is written and what is withheld. The majority said that they would not share parts of themselves that still cause them pain. Meaning, that if I shared something and someone commented in a hurtful way (which has happened) I would not want it to be related to a topic where my nerve is exposed. There are several areas of my life where this is the case and probably will always be as such.

Also, there are things that happened on my journey that involved immense suffering for other people. It would never be my intention to share those stories. I make every intention to respect and protect with each post. I pray this is not a form of exhibitionism.

I’m glad these questions and thoughts were brought to my attention. It forced me to examine how many of my stories were not mine alone. In fact, only a handful are my stories are mine to share. I suppose we will continue see how this all works out.

“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

The Gift Of Trauma.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Mary Oliver

We often hear of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but we seldom hear of Post Traumatic Growth. What is post traumatic growth? Well, let me share the researchers’ definition:

Posttraumatic growth tends to occur in five general areas. Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything”. A fourth aspect of posttraumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general. The fifth area involves the spiritual or religious domain. Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual lives,however, this deepening can also involve a significant change in one’s belief system. – Post Traumatic Growth Research Center

What does this mean? It means that surviving trauma or great suffering may allow you to experience a deeper and richer appreciation for life. I suppose this makes sense, one cannot have the sweet without the sour. If you allow for it, for all the sour you’ve experienced in your life, you are allowed the potential for just as much (if not more) sweet.

For example, if you grew up poor, having resources and a safe home are not something you take for granted. If you grew up in an abusive home, living peacefully feels like heaven. If you survived an illness, you appreciate every breath you take and every morning you wake. You are able to truly enjoy the simple things that so many people take for granted.

If you allow yourself to moon over the little things (sunshine, puppies, laughter, friends, glass of wine, a peaceful day, a warm bath, time with loved ones) that make up the ever so important details of our lives, you will continuously feel overwhelmed with gratitude. If you pause to reflect on the amount of courage and resolve you demonstrated when you were faced with adversity, you will know that you are made stronger and adversity is genuinely a gift.

I don’t necessarily agree with people who claim to blessed or lucky for never having to struggle. The expression, “But for the grace of God” never made much sense to me. Often , these people are fearful because they haven’t been forced to survive the unsurvivable. They don’t know that they will be okay no matter what (and they will be). I would never wish a traumatic event on anyone but, if you survive, a certain kind of courage and resilience is born.

I believe resilience and courage can develop without trauma. I think that when a person steps out and is willing to live a life they love and risk upsetting some people in doing so, a certain kind of courage is cultivated. Don’t wait for trauma to have post-traumatic growth. Go out and be brave now. 

Life is a curious journey because I would have never chosen a path with so many winding turns and potholes. If given a choice, I would not have chosen to experience the pain and loss that my life has provided. But, I was not given a choice. I was given a choice as to what to do once the pain was in my lap. I can say from experience, traumatic events have the capacity to enhance your life in ways I never dreamed.

The darkness was indeed a gift. The wrapping paper sucked and I don’t know why some things happened the way they did (and will never know) but I’m here now, sipping coffee, looking out the window, filled with gratitude.

“Despite the real struggle associated with trauma recovery, there is often a simultaneous increase in a person’s capacity to enjoy the mundane. A blue sky, a delicate fragrance, a small act of compassion, the subtleties of nature, and the innocence of children and animals are often noted as having significance. Perhaps the sweetness of normalcy is illuminated when confronted with certain kinds of darkness.” The Unexpected Gifts of Trauma