I work hard to stay positive as possible, though it hasn’t always come naturally to me and sometimes still doesn’t. When I was young, I did honestly tend to believe that the universe was laughing at me behind my back and conspiring to cause me heartaches. I have a lot of tools now to help me shift my thinking when I catch myself seeing events in a mostly negative light. I use the same tools I suggest or make available to my clients and they generally work really well for me.
Recently, my husband sent me a text that it had been a full year since he last saw his brother, who died of brain cancer in April of 2012. I knew he was feeling sad, which is understandable.
As we get older, we accumulate more and more of these kinds of sad” anniversaries”. It is just the way life tends to be. I know that, but when I started thinking about the topic, I realized that so much of my own life calendar is absolutely filled up with such recollections and with marking so many painful and difficult milestones. It feels natural on the birthdays and death anniversaries of departed friends and family, to remember them and even to find means of continuing to honor them, whether by doing this in solitude, by talking to others who knew them, or by writing about them, which helps me, and which I often feel moved to do.
How much time, though, do I spend remembering and commemorating the joyous events of my past life? How much do you spend doing that?
I don’t mean the obvious ones, like wedding anniversaries, but some of the less prominent and perhaps just as meaningful times and happenings. How often do you recall the internal feelings you had on the small and large occasions, rather than mainly recalling the external events?
We all celebrate our kids’ birthdays, but we mostly focus on them and on giving to them. Unless we are relatively new parents, we don’t take much time to remember the actual birth experiences, or to recall the funny little anecdotes or facts around these momentous occasions. There is so much more to remember beyond what goes on in labor and delivery. As adoptive parents, some of us also celebrate what we call “Gotcha Day”, the anniversary of the date our adopted kids were placed in our arms. Again, such celebrations usually entail stories we tell our kids about that special time, in order to help them feel cherished as they are growing up. Sometimes we celebrate their arrival dates with a favorite meal, or with foods from their cultural backgrounds, or maybe with a gift. We don’t concentrate on recalling the exhiliration, the hope, the amazement, the sense of wonder and sense of miracles we felt. We don’t usually take time to sit and re-experience those things. Remembering the feelings we had in such happy times can not only give us pleasure because they are transporting us back to a good place in our histories, but can help us practice feeling good and joyful in the present when we are not easily inclined to feel that way. If we do it enough, the practicing becomes reality and we actually do feel happier and more positive about the here and now.
It really can help us get through tough times when we make a decision to do more concentrating on joyful and fun events and occasions from the past, whether these were major and significant, or not. When we feel the painful memories crowding us too much, making it hard to function, that’s the time to sit and reflect on our portfolios of small joys and smiles. When we are feeling blue, during times when life doesn’t seem to be going our way or offering us many smiles and places of comfort, building a “portfolio: of such happy or lighter moments of our histories can give us pleasure, strength and the ability to go on. I am not suggesting that we dwell on, or get stuck in the past, but that we take time out to remember and cherish things that were significant in the moments we experienced them, and then got lost over time. Doing this can lighten our burden, lift our mood and can put us in a more positive frame of mind. Then we are enabled to shift our darker perspectives and to begin again to live and find joy in the moment in which we presently find ourselves. Human brains have an enormous capacity to retain information and memories, but we also store emotions. Pulling out and examining some of our more positive memories can reactivate the pathways of feeling that may have been hiding from us.
You may ask, “What if I had a painful childhood?”. “What if I can’t easily dig up those more joyful memories?” Even those who experienced the most horrendous things can think of days that were good, experiences that brought them joy or inspiration. Even people in concentration camps found small things to smile about and to help them survive. It may take more time and more of a commitment on your part to dig deeply and to uncover your past joys but they are there within all of us.
Why not prime the pump by creating a list of memories that helped you to feel good in the past? Jot down special times you want to remember but don’t always, and try to concentrate on what you feel when you remember these.