Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
I have a client whose wife is living with a chronic condition. She has good days and bad days. On the good days, she is the most upbeat, charming person. On the bad days, she isn’t able to do very much other than rest. She may need to go to the doctor on those days. Nothing that families dealing with chronic conditions aren’t experiencing in their own lives.
I can always tell how his wife is doing by how he seems when he comes in to see me. On her good days, he is upbeat, even jokes around with me. On not so good days, he seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. We have been talking about what he can do on those days when his wife isn’t feeling well, what he can do to help himself to avoid feeling down in the dumps, what he can do to communicate in ways that help his wife feel more optimistic, and how he can pick up the mood at home.
“How are things?” I asked.
“Not so great today. We’re going in to see the doctor this afternoon,” he answered. And then he smiled and said: “My wife just told me that I made her the perfect cup of coffee. Along with the perfect cinnamon toast. We have great weather ahead this week. Life is good.”
We both laughed because we had made a list of the joys in his life, and coffee and sunshine were right near the top.
When life constantly throws a challenge your way, it’s easy to find yourself putting a negative spin on things, telling yourself how hard life is, feeling like the good days are only a brief break from the bad days. Bringing yourself down.
Being conscious of life’s daily pleasures—even when you have to give yourself a push to be conscious of them—can take you a long way toward feeling happier.
I am constantly reminded that true happiness doesn’t hit like a lightning bolt or a million-dollar lottery jackpot. Life is full of smaller pleasures, like enjoying beautiful weather and a great cup of coffee. Helping someone you care about have a better day. And being told that you did a good job. Savoring the small stuff, not just sweating it.
Focusing on the simple joys is a great way to introduce some optimism into your communication.
Here are some things you can do to celebrate those simple joys in your day
Start by changing your self-talk. Counter the negatives with positive examples of the joy of having people you care about and who care about you in your life.
Be in the moment. Look around you. Find that ray of light in what might seem like a pretty dark forest. Admittedly, this may feel like “Where’s Waldo?” on some days.
If you see something, say something. Follow my client’s wife’s example and point out that sunny day or that excellent cup of coffee. Don’t underestimate the power of a “thank you” and a compliment. We never get enough of those.
Make a list. If the concerns of the moment have a way of making you forget what’s good, it can help to keep a list. You might call it your “Daily Blessing List” and update it frequently. And then review it when you need to.
Don’t wait. Get the day rolling by tossing out the first positive affirmation of the day. And if you can’t quite pin down what there is to be joyful about, how about smiling or maybe sharing a hug? Create some joy and watch what happens.
I am not trying to tell you to put a smiley face on a tough reality. When you don’t feel good, you don’t feel good. And when somebody you love doesn’t feel good, you don’t feel that good yourself. But I encourage you to see that the cup might be, if not half full, at least not empty. And then create some joy through injecting some positivity into the communication at your house.
What’s good today? Shout it out, loud and clear!