One of the most helpful concepts I've learned in therapy recently is reframing.
It helps me see my husband, your Daddy, asleep on the couch as a peaceful part of the home I've created, not reaching for a beer or some other vice at the end of his day, but comfortable and at ease falling asleep, his daughters playing nearby. Instead of seeing him as a snoring lump, not helping with dinner or child care and ignoring his daughters.
I can see this horrible event--Danjo's dog bite, getting in a car where I'm not the driver, being stuck in a seemingly endless conversation, my entire psychological life crisis--in a different light, instead of fixating on the negative, the things that can't be changed or the past. Danjo is resilient, I can enjoy the scenery, I can be a supportive listening friend, I can envision a whole new way to live.
The past and the future are concepts, right? There is only now. And how one sees now. And while one may argue that there are certain truths to each version of my husband or the dog bite or a boring conversation, the truths don't matter much when it comes to my choice about how to see these situations and the world.
And it's more than just a question of pessimism versus optimism. And I certainly wouldn't advocate any sort of Disney-esque-Princess-rose-colored-glasses-in-the-face-of-the-Beast kind of enchantment or ignorance.
Though there is evidence that optimists are:
- More successful in school, at work, and in athletics
- Healthier and longer lived
- More satisfied with their marriages
- Less likely to suffer from depression
- Less anxious (Carter, 2010, p. 78)
I'll take an order of that.
But further, I'm speaking to my experience of being an extreme perfectionist, an over-thinking, judging and critical person, who clings to past failures and makes "logical" guesswork of a future that doesn't exist yet. I'll tell you, this serves no one.
I'll never fulfill the bubbly positive archetype. But, I'm learning to manufacture my own happiness--this is a concept put forth by (once again) my parenting guru, Christine Carter in Raising Happiness.
This does not mean suppressing negative emotions or feelings, but it means being able to bring up or draw on positive emotions when we need them. And to see negative emotions as an opportunity for growth.
You've heard it all, I'm sure: laughter is the best medicine, the thing about smiling more actually making you happy. And it's all true and scientific and stuff.
In addition, "[p]ositive emotions 'undo' the physiological response of negative ones, calming the heart rate and reducing levels of stress-related hormones in our bodies. They turn off, or tone down, our flight-or-fight response" (p. 96).
I'll take two orders of that.
And there is an actual ratio for this "undoing"--it's 3:1--three positive feelings for every one negative feeling (p. 97).
Both living with gratitude and choosing forgiveness over anger have beneficial psychological and physiological effects (p. 69, p.73).
In short, we can choose to be happy.
This does not mean I won't be a pessimist or I'll never have negative experiences. I do not promise that life will be easy and without obstacles or periods of, in my case, depression.
But, I will promise to model for you girls how to reframe, how to choose happiness, to call on positive emotions, to forgive, to do a happy dance.
To look at a cold, stormy day and to see an opportunity to splash, to hold an umbrella, to feel the rain on your face and the wind in your hair, to watch the worms on the ground, to see the green and growing plants and best of all, to warm up with a mug of hot chocolate and "maatch-mallows."