There was a bit of reporting earlier in the year on the inter web (like this article) summarising some recent research by Alex Korb which — as I understand it (I’ve not actually read it) — he published in book form as The Upward Spiral. The book is marketed as the neuroscience of depression, but the popular reportage was entitled 4 rituals that will make you happier.
These are summarised as:
- Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
- Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
- Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”
- Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.
I haven’t read in detail to try to see how the neuroscience side stacks up, but on the face of it this seems like a pretty good list to call on. What I most liked about it is that these are all self-sufficient strategies. They don’t involve anyone else — well, apart from 4 I suppose, but only at the level of willing victim!
I thought of this list as I trundled home from work today, feeling oddly more light-hearted than I have for some days. Maybe it’s because I’m getting my energy back slowly after nearly two weeks of some virulent cold virus. But as I reflected on the working part of my day it occurred to me also that I happened to have hit all these rituals in some way.
- Today, as on most days, I found myself enumerating some gratitudes I have. I just do this now in some of those interstitial moments (waiting for the lights to change, the kettle to boil, the computer to boot etc). How very pollyanna-ish of me — but actually I do truly do this quite automatically! So today I was grateful to the barista at work simply for existing and therefore serving up coffee, for the view from my office window that offered a beautiful cloudscape over the rooftops, for finding the confidence just to plough on and do a talk three times back to back when my laptop wasn’t working and I couldn’t show what I was talking about (I did actually ask each group to close their eyes and just imagine….!), and for a supportive personal email reminding me of a small but profound truth (I’ll share — it was just to have patience, but I always need to be reminded!).
- But of course negative emotions were still hovering around me at various points in my day. I was taught in Mindfulness meditation to label thought patterns, so again this practice is much less weird to me now than it used to be. First there was a strange type of relief as I commiserated with a colleague who’s not feeling well (he has what I have and he’s lacking in energy as much as I am, so I know this is just part of the virus, not a sign I’m falling into ME/CFS relapse). There was also frustration when a colleague emailed to report that he hand’t completed the task I delegated — and that he wouldn’t. Of course frustration quickly morphed into fear as I wondered how to get out of this difficulty that now threatened my whole production schedule. And then resentment that I had predicted this would happen and no-one listened. Oh, now hello righteous indignation! This was almost fun to watch. All it needed was a good soundtrack and popcorn!
- Good enough decisions abounded in a project meeting, where various team members reported difficulties and Things Going Wrong, and I simply met them with a ‘best possible solution’ attitude and put in place what mitigations I could. And then I just moved on. No agonising required!
- I got a hug from the friend I spent lunchtime with. That was lovely, but verging on ritual — it’s what friends do. Even though the mutual affection was genuine I know. She is such a cheerleader for me, and I hope I am for her too (she just got a promotion by the way — yay!!). But what was kind of more lovely because it was so unexpected was the spontaneous by-the-photocopier-hug I got from a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while. It was almost a rugby tackle, it was so effusive!
All this is just the trivialities of everyday life, but it was nice to reflect on the richness of experience these little scenarios represent. The little stuff adds up into what life really is. Blink and you miss it.
How’s your day been?
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