This week I had the great fortune to come across a beautiful poem by Bill Harley – Nothing for Granted. It was written back in 2011, but it has never been truer than right now.
The past two years have been an emotional rollercoaster and a societal shit storm for most of us. Understatement!
When life feels hard
Sitting here today I know first hand that working in the NHS right now feels unrelentingly hard. Each time we think things cannot possibly get any worse, each time we think we are ‘over the peak’ and on the road to some kind of reprieve, it gets harder, busier, more urgent. Again, and again.
It can be incredibly difficult to see joy, or feel optimism in times like this. I think it can even feel comforting and safe to talk about how hard things are, sharing that pain or frustration or exhaustion with others as a way to know we are not alone.
How many conversations do you have where you ask someone how they are, and the first thing they do is say ‘well I’m just really stressed with work right now’ or ‘yeah, im okay but….’.
I know I’ve done it.
Sometimes I have wanted people to know how hard things are for me; it somehow socially validates the way I am feeling, like I’m using it to convince myself that my reaction and emotions are proportionate and therefore ‘normal’.
We have a natural tendency to focus on, and therefore comment on, what is hard, difficult, ugly or unwelcome. That’s literally how clickbait works, and why the vast majority of our media is a commentary of the most frightening and unstable events and people in this world.
“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
It is also why after an occasion where 95% of things went well, we focus obsessively on the one person who left early, or didn’t smile back at you, or the phrase where our mouth went dry due to nerves and we tripped up (even though no one actually seemed to react to it).
Wired for negativity
Research by Dr Barbara Friederisckson at the University of North Carolina suggests that we require three positives for every negative we experience in order to maintain balance.
And these experiences don’t have to be situations or events, they can also be thoughts. Applying this ‘3 to 1’ ratio means we need three positive experiences to outweigh the negative one, and tip the balance back in favour of joy and happiness.
Doing this as a regular practice restores a balance between obsessive-thinking survival mode and happy contended thriving mode.
But what if things are feeling really shit? What if work is stressful, you’ve been arguing with your partner or kids or parents, the house is a mess, you are worried about money and life honestly feels a bit lonely.
Using the everyday to make your day
This is where I have found the mastery of the mundane comes into it’s own. All of us, every single one of us who is alive and breathing has something simple, mundane and usual to be joyous for.
I have been challenging myself, just three times a day to stop and notice something ordinary that was beautiful or surprising or cool.
When I started this, if I found that the day passed me by in a blur, I tried to notice three things on my way home, or during my evening. And when I couldn’t even do that, a prompt on my bedside table at night reminded me to begin and end my day by thinking of three lovely, normal things which I take real joy in.
For me, it’s the smell of coffee beans being ground in the morning as I make my first cup of the day. It’s earthy, it’s fresh, it’s complex and it seems to light up my brain if I sniff it in and savour it. You might say it’s just the anticipation of the caffeine maybe but I drink decaf these days! Crankhouse Coffee, roasted in Devon. It’s delicious.
It’s also the patch of sun across my bed in the afternoon, so when I finish work and lie there for a couple of minutes it’s really warm and cosy, and I usually feel pleased that I have finished work for the day!
It’s waking up in bed, oh my lovely soft and squishy bed, with Toms body next to me all warm. And during the Springtime when the bulbs I planted in Autumn start to blossom, it’s the powerful fragrance of the Narcissus bordering the driveway which welcomes me home and always makes me smile.
Variety, and specificity
I have come to think that by varying the things we consciously notice we feel joyous for and making them really everyday and repeatable, they become masters in their own kingdom.
We are invited to experience their pleasures and their wisdom whenever we want to, or whenever we take enough time to notice them and really appreciate them for what they are.
The pleasure we take from these things does not have to diminish with time, and the more we balance out the negatives with the positives all around us the more we live a joyful life of our own making. Happiness is our choice.
Each of these moments is as much our life as the moments we hold up as most sacred; holidays, weddings, weekends, birthdays.
I know that I feel more energetic, more clean-minded and more joyous when I make it a habit to notice these things and revel in them for a couple of seconds even.
To put this into practice, why not try one of my Inwards today meditations:
And, as Bill Harley says “let us be masters of the repeated appreciation”.
Check out the full poem at the link below – it’s really beautiful.