Like a character in Game of Thrones, I keep pointing out winter is coming. I was not supposed to be here for winter. I suffer from Seasonal Affected Disorder, or SAD for short. Apt because that’s what the seemingly endless grey days make me — sad. However, thanks to the worldwide pandemic, I am stuck here until at least next spring.
But I’m still grateful to be here right now.
My spouse has a good, reliable income in what’s considered an essential job. I’m living in a single-family home that’s smaller than the national average — but big enough to provide two bedrooms that converted into home offices. Our retirement savings are (surprisingly) growing; our debt (not including mortgage) is virtually eliminated. I’ve even lost weight by eating at home (despite the increased ice cream, cookies, and wine). Neither of us has caught COVID-19. And since Santa Fe Book Arts Group is now doing meetings via Zoom, I can participate again.
Developing Gratitude Is an Essential Strategy to Resilience
According to psychologist Lucy Hone and others, developing your gratitude is one of three key strategies to becoming resilient. Evolution hardwired us to focus on the negative, on potential threats and dangers. But we can carefully choose where and on what we put our focus. Resilient people realistically appraise a situation, and then focus on what they can change, accepting what they can’t. Fortunately, we can learn to shift our focus and develop gratitude with practice and persistence.
To build our resilience, Hone teaches people to “tune into the good.” We need to stop ruminating on the negative, the bad things that have happened, and find the benefits in our lives.
Positive psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, created an exercise that effectively increased gratitude, resilience, and happiness in studies. In brief, each evening before going to bed, participants wrote down three positive things that happened to them that day, and then considered and wrote down why these events happened. It might be something simple like, “My wife brought home my favorite ice cream,” and the reason was that “she’s thoughtful and cares about me.” For more details and resources, check out my post on Gratitude Journaling.
Now, let me point out that I am strongly hardwired to focus on the negative. I am decidedly a Cassandra, a grumbler, and often the devil’s advocate in a discussion. (My friend, Sandra, is rolling her eyes right now and saying, “You think? You have an emergency Bug Out Bag in your hall closet!”) Gratitude Journaling, once I discovered it, has gotten me through several low periods in my life. However, sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get me out of my ruminating rut.
Resilient People Ask Themselves the Critical Question
When we are engulfed in our grief, wallowing in our well of fear and anxiety, repeating a destructive response, we need to ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” Sometimes the question is painful but take a moment to ask it — and answer it honestly. Stopping and evaluating what you’re doing puts you back in control of your life. Whether it’s internally ranting about an old grudge — again — or deflecting a necessary task, the question helps break bad habits and automatic responses. (I usually put the Ben and Jerry’s back into the freezer.)
Resilient People Don’t Wear Rose-colored Glasses
As Lucy Hone puts it, “Resilient people know and accept that shit happens.” Rather than rent our garments, bemoan our fate, and wail, “Why me?” we need to acknowledge what we all know — no one’s life is perfect. Instagram isn’t real life. Reality shows aren’t real. We all suffer pain, physical and emotional, at some point. As the joke used to go, “No one gets out of this life alive!”
So, we should all adopt and develop these three strategies to strengthen our resilience. And be grateful we have them.
Trigger Alert: Includes discussion of the loss of a child