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Why Thinking of the Negative Can Lead You to the Positive

There certainly are enough negative things going on in the world today - thinks that shock our systems and take us off course. What if instead of getting burdened or even buried by them, we could use aspects to reframe our thinking and bring us back to a more positive perspective? I’m not saying walk through life with rose-colored glasses – just experiment with a way to tap into your resiliency, so you can move forward. This involves looking at things in a counterintuitive way. Let’s explore.


Here’s a short folktale that’s been passed on through the generations. Sometimes how we see the world affects how happy we are in it. 


Once upon a time, in a small village, there lived a poor unfortunate man with his mom, wife, and six kids, in a one-room hut. Because they were so crowded, the hut was full of crying and quarreling. One day, when the man just couldn’t stand it anymore, he ran to the Rabbi for advice.


The Rabbi thought about it for a moment, then told the man to put 5 chickens, a rooster, and a goose into his house. The man respected the rabbi, so even though he couldn’t understand why, he took the animals from the shed and brought them into his little hut. A week went by, and along with the usual crying and quarreling, there was also honking, crowing, and clucking. He went back to the Rabbi, who told him to bring a goat inside the house too. Shocked, the man went home and followed the instructions. Life continued to get worse, and the hut seemed smaller by the day. By now, the man was frustrated, and he ran to the Rabbi and begged for his help. The Rabbi told him to bring a cow into his house. The man trudged back home and reluctantly brought the cow into his home.


Another week went by, and life was insane in the house. The chickens we clucking, the goat ran wild. The cow trampled everything. The man was at his wit's end. He ran to the Rabbi and said, ‘It’s a nightmare!” The Rabbi smiled and told the man to put all the animals back outside. The man thanked him and ran back home and cleared out all the animals.


That night he and his family slept soundly for the first time –no crowing, no clucking, no honking. The next day the family couldn’t believe how wonderful it was: being just with the family, having their home all to themselves...peace at last. This story is adapted from a book called “It Could Be Worse,” and it leads us to the idea that we have the power to shift perspectives, and re-center, especially in challenging times.


You may ask: how can we appreciate what we have around us, when there are so many things that are stressful or infuriating or simply out of our control? Here are 3 short experiments from the Science of Happiness that can help you shift your perspective:


1. Pause to Pay Attention:

Most likely, you have the luxury of taking a hot shower. If that’s something you take for granted, do an experiment: make yourself  take cold showers for a day or two especially when the weather gets colder. Chances are you’ll start to value what you now take for granted.


2. Appreciate WHO you have:

Look at the people around you. Take a moment to really reflect. What if they weren’t there; what if they got sick; what if you did not have them in your lives? Close your eyes and imagine no longer being able to connect with them. Petty irritations somehow become less important.


3. Create a Plan B:

Mother Nature is letting us know who is boss. Hopefully, you are not caught in a wildfire or a flood and you are safe. We almost had to evacuate; I have friends who are facing that now. For a moment, imagine if you were in that situation – this is called “negative visualization.” What would you bring with you, who would you call for help, where would you go? Really thinking it through will help you value what you now rarely consider: that you are safe.


I think we can all agree that nothing is perfect – but these techniques may help you appreciate the people around you, and your home, even with its faults. Then when something is irritating or makes you want to scream, cry or hide your head under a pillow, you can find more resilience inside yourself, take a breath, and move your best self forward. Try any of these that resonate with you in the next week, and notice how you feel.


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