New year, new thinking
You can’t positive-think a terrible situation into something glorious. But as we take stock of 2020 and look forward to something new, a little positivity might be in order.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Outer Order, Inner Calm, has been tackling the question of how to say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021 on her Instagram feed. She says that positivity isn’t just in the thinking. It’s in the doing.
“I’m a big believer in the power of concrete actions to shape our emotions and thoughts,” she writes. “With a ritual to ‘Exorcise 2020,’ we can help ourselves look forward to the future with more energy and cheer.” Her followers suggested a few rituals: “Exorcise the Covid-19 so that our pants fit again.” “Purge the pantry.” “[Focus on] the words of the Bee Gees, ‘Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.’”
And then there were more serious responders, like the one who said, “[We] can’t wait for the return of normal, because 1) we don’t know when the pandemic will actually end, and it isn’t likely to be January 1; and 2) we have lived through so much change, the old version of normal isn’t coming back… what will we create with this opportunity we’ve been given to create our own new-and-improved versions of normal?”
Henry Richardson, who founded DEFINE fitness and holds a master’s degree in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, reiterates the notion that everything is not going to completely change overnight with the new year.
“It’s important to remember that each and every day, we have a new chance to ‘slow-drip’ into positive change. Fear, anxiety, these are below-the-line emotions that are narrowing, constricting, leading us to seeing more of the same. Small movements make long-lasting change. Over time, when the slow drip happens consistently, it becomes saturated, and it dissipates the negativity.”
Henry suggests creating positive interventions. “Intervention is something we typically think of as a negative,” he says, “but what if we shifted our mindset to creating a positive intervention, creating a momentary injection of positivity? What works for you? Going for a walk, cooking, putting on your favorite playlist? These are the ways you can pause and intervene in that downward spiral. Then, when we find ourselves deviating into a direction we are not happy with, we can pull out a tool and change direction.”
“For me, the best thing is to focus hyper-locally on my own life,” says Lisa Helfman, the H-E-B director of public affairs and founder of the nonprofit Brighter Bites. “When I get upset, it’s because I’m focusing on big things that I have no control over. When I’m focusing on my kids and my life, on where I can actually make change, that really helps me.”
Lisa sends a quote in her son Drew’s lunch every day. Recently she found a new favorite: Be so happy that when others look at you, they become happy too. “I think that’s what guides me,” she says. “What makes me happiest, what fuels my positivity, is being able to give to others. Not just the big things like getting to be the H-E-B ‘fairy’ [Lisa oversees H-E-B’s contributions to the community], but in little ways, making connections, helping people, doing something for my kids. I brought home Mi Tienda for dinner, and I know my boys are going to enjoy it. Finding the joy in the little things like that that I can make an impact on.
“We all want to be cared for, and when we care about each other, it fills us up. I know that’s the secret of success at Brighter Bites. It’s not the food [they distribute fresh, organic produce to underserved families]. It’s that people feel cared for.”
Sean Fitzpatrick, executive director at The Jung Center, says living in the present can be our key to peace in the new year. “We all face challenges,” he says. “We naturally want to resolve them and avoid new ones. What often happens, though, is that our attention is drawn to the past, to figure out how to keep suffering from happening again, or to the future, where new stress may emerge.”
Instead, he tells us to notice the gifts of today. “They may be loving relationships, a secure job, our health or even the ability to walk outside in cool Houston winter days. Rather than worry about what we can’t control, we can choose to plan for what we can control, and otherwise live our lives now, here.”
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