“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”
You may be wondering why I am spending so much time on humor, laughter, blessings and gratitude in this series. I am because they are such powerful mindsets that can overcome depression, sorrow, and hopelessness.
They are some of life’s most powerful tools that can be used every day in many circumstances to lift our spirits and motivate us to look for ways to accomplish goals and be happy. This is especially beneficial when healing from a loss.
Did you know that just by searching for positive things to be grateful for, you are activating your brain to produce more feel-good hormones? Just by the process, you are changing how your brain is working. Wow – I think that’s pretty significant!
Most of us would agree that a blessing is something fortunate that has happened to us for which we are thankful. We think of them in the moment as a relief from pressure, something unexpected that reduces stress or makes us feel good.
I have discovered, however, that many times blessings come disguised and are only realized later. We are required to make tough choices within the challenges we face. Making those tough choices has taught me to think beyond the moment.
This was especially true when I was creating a new life for myself after the death of my husband. I knew I not only could survive, but I could use my skills to rebuild a meaningful life.
“I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that you and I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. . . no matter what horrible thing has happened; life still offers you humor if you want it.”
“Ac-cent– tchu–ate the positive, eliminate the negative…” was a popular song in the 1940s.
We can look at any situation and see both the positive and the negative. If we choose to look at things from a positive point of view, we will see a glass half-full of water instead of a glass half-empty. Our perceptions affect our moods and emotional states.
Do we choose happiness or is it a result of external events?
And if we have so much control over our happiness, then why are we so unhappy?
“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.”
Every year we prepare for the traditional changes that occur with the different seasons – fall to winter, winter to spring, etc. We can also identify with the writer of Ecclesiastes when he talks about the seasons of life we go through. But we are not always ready to accept them, especially when that season exchange is out of sync with our expectations.
We want the pleasant things – we don’t want the unpleasant.
We don’t want to give up one to gain the other. We want life – not death. We want laughter and joy, not weeping and mourning. Yet both are necessary components to life.
I believe it is only within our difficulties, troubles and losses where we discover more about life and ourselves.
As we approach Easter in a few days, we are reminded that Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross, offering forgiveness and grace.
Jesus said forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative. But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves, as the theologian, Frederick Buechner, so aptly describes.
Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, and then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip-ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize and then move on.
Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances.
We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.
In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.
When any longstanding conflicts are dumped onto our grief and loss, they add another layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Unresolved issues between you and the deceased can initiate feelings of shame or guilt. You may not have had a chance for reconciliation or resolution before death.
If losses were the result of random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unforeseen death, we may be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions and feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse.
If you had been a victim of past abuse, abandonment, rejection or injustice; or lived with years of misunderstandings or conflict with this person who has now died, you will be left with a multitude of incongruous emotions. It might seem as if death has cheated you from finding resolution.
ceremonies or rites of passage symbolize leaving childhood to enter adulthood. Sometimes the rituals are physically demanding – others are simply a public recognition and celebration after instruction. Religions also have symbolic ceremonies to represent a major transition such as Jewish Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.
We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we move into the next stage of life. Even if we are enthusiastic about a new beginning, the ending can be bitter-sweet. We wait with anticipation for that first child, only to discover in becoming a parent, that we are not free to come and go as we please. Life has been altered forever. We may finally have reached that long-awaited retirement, only to experience restlessness and lack of purpose. It is necessary to redefine who we are at each stage of life.
We are defined by many things in life: our relationships, our roles, our handicaps.
What defines you? My youngest son was an artist. He started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. Even the simplest stick figures he drew had character and substance. His creativity seemed to flow out of him like water from a pitcher. He would draw for hours.
He loved to draw faces – faces that so expressed the characteristics of the individual that it never required anything more – you saw the whole person in the face. Within the expressions, there was passion, confidence, longing, sadness, robust strength, humor, wisdom, and understanding. Even today as I look at his drawings, I marvel at the depth of disclosure in his drawings that revealed so much of the human spirit and soul.
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