Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Gladys who lives across the hall from one of my good friends. While I was visiting my friend for her birthday, Gladys invited us in to her apartment to meet with her family and chat. As we were talking, Gladys pointed out the view from her porch. “Look at that view,” she said smiling. “I get to look at that view every day.” Admittedly, all I really saw was a murky creek, a pine tree and a golf course. But Gladys saw much more from her one-bedroom apartment, and she appreciated the simple beauty that’s so easy to take for granted in our busy everyday lives. She reminded me that it’s not the scenery, it’s how you see it.
It’s been said that the opposite of anxiety is often gratefulness. As someone who struggles with anxiety and who tends to overthink just about everything, I’m always looking for ways to manage this and take a calmer, and more appreciative, approach to life. I’ve never found it helpful to “just be more positive” because I think this is far easier said than done, and doesn’t validate the feelings that you have. Instead, I prefer to take a more grateful approach. I recently learned about the “mental subtraction of positive events”* as a tool to help foster a more grateful approach to life. Here’s a streamlined version of how it works.
- Think about a positive event in your life such as a personal or career achievement, special relationship or trip/vacation.
- Think about the circumstances that made this event possible.
- Imagine your life without this event. Think about how life would be different, and how you’d feel.
- Refocus and remind yourself that this good event happened. Focus on how good it makes you feel and allow yourself to be grateful.
Just like any healthy activity, this will take practice and the key is to make it a habit. I plan to do this every Sunday night, which is usually a time spent focusing on (stressing about) the week ahead. Life gets busy, schedules fill up and the list of things we wish we had tends to grow. But, sometimes, it takes a special person like Gladys to remind us of all that we have. What positive event will you focus on today?
*Learn more about the mental subtraction of positive events, from the UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, including evidence that this practice works.
Study Reference: Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1217-1224.