“How can you be happy at a time like this?”
If you’ve ever been asked that question, you know what it’s like to be judged for pursuing the positive, for seeking light in the darkness. It’s common, and a lot of times, it’s hard to understand. Where is this coming from, this “misery loves company” attitude?
It’s coming, in part, from a focus on the negative, making us miserable and resenting people who have a positive attitude, especially during a crisis. There’s actually a reason for it, too. With so much unhappiness making the rounds, positive people can be perceived as annoying. We become suspicious, like they are trivializing hardship. However, truly positive people aren’t ignoring the negative. They are choosing to focus on the good they can control.
Yes, this is about control. When someone tells you that you have the power to make yourself happier, they aren’t saying you have the power to overcome all that is wrong in the world. They aren’t saying it’s your fault you are unhappy. And they aren’t saying you’re wrong to be unhappy. What they are saying is, if you choose to and you want to, you can change your outlook, even if just a bit. And while it might not happen right away, you can start now by controlling what is in your power, by changing your focus.
It can even be hard to get yourself to a point where you believe this, but once you are open to the possibilities, you are ready to give refocusing a try. Here’s an exercise I’ve seen work time and again:
- Find a peaceful place in your home or outdoors. It doesn’t matter which, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be a place that brings you some kind of comfort.
- Get into a relaxed position. It doesn’t really matter what that is. Relaxation is different for different people.
- Now, look around. Find one object that is pleasant to look at and focus on it.*
- Look even more closely at the object. Notice the details, the angles, colors, texture. Pick it up, touch it, examine it.
- Now think of how you feel when you feel something positive, like joy. Remember the feeling. You don’t have to feel anything positive right now. Just think about how it feels.
- When you think about that positive feeling, look closely again at the object as you hold it.
- Do this for as long as you can concentrate.
- Carry the object with you or put it in a place where you see it often. Pick up throughout the day.
- Repeat these steps at least once daily as necessary.
*If you are visually impaired, you might try focusing on smell.
Here’s why it works. By pairing an object with an emotion, you’re creating an association. And by consistently reminding yourself of that association, you’re changing your focus. It’s simple, it’s powerful and it’s in your control.
We all know the world can be harsh and that we are living in times that make happiness feel more elusive. Do what you can to preserve the positive. It really is lying dormant inside you, waiting to be reawakened.
Early spring in the garden,
fingers in cool, moist soil,
I uncover the seeds
from last year’s bloom.
There they are,
Until next time,
Prince William Living writer Katherine Gotthardt is a widely published local author and poet. Her forthcoming book, Get Happy, Dammit, will be released in 2020.