It’s so easy to focus on the disappointments in your life—both in the past and in the present. Our minds have a way of pulling these moments out of the closet, like old clothing, and putting them on, even if they don’t fit very well today. When we look in the mirror, we feel sad, angry, or hurt. Without intending to, we periodically find ourselves digging through this closet. It brings us pain.
In that regard, I am no different than anyone else. I can think about my parent’s divorce, my messy adolescent years, and my brother’s traumatic death. Like most adults, I’ve had my share of hard times.
But the other day, as I made my early morning stroll around Green Lake, watching a magnificent sunrise, I found myself rummaging through my treasure chest of warm memories. I went back to my earliest memories of kindheartedness and love—and started to reflect on all of the blessings I have experienced in the 64 years of my life-- both large and small.
Perhaps, on the doorstep of older adulthood (I learned recently that when I turn 65, I will officially become an older adult!), I realized something important. There is much good fortune hidden behind the rocks of the past. We just have to look for it.
I thought about my many backpacking trips with my two older brothers who loved and protected me, my grandmother who lived with my family, going to the bakery on Sunday mornings with my father, our many family camping trips, my camp counselor, Manny, who took me under his wing when I was eight years old, my 6th grade teacher who had the courage to teach me humility, my mother’s best friend who saved my life when my parents divorced, my best friend’s father who helped me as a teen, my stepfather who became one of my best friends in my 40’s, and the many mentors who helped me become a man.
I reflected on the early years of my marriage, when we could finally afford to go on a honeymoon four years after we got married (Diane was six months pregnant!), and then scores of warm and loving moments when we were a young family. I brought to mind my youngest daughter’s wedding—filled with love and joy. I considered the many fine colleagues that I get to work with every day. As I moved through the years, I was particularly thankful that I had the opportunity to be with my parents when they came to the natural end of their lives.
This walk down gratitude lane was spontaneous, which made it especially sweet. By the time I arrived back home, I was filled with a sense of thankfulness. Diane was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea. I told her that the very best thing that happened to me in my life was meeting her. Throughout that day, I found myself sharing my feeling of appreciation with others.
As a psychologist, I know more than most, that some lives seem particularly filled with sadness, loss, disappointment, and trauma. Others appear to have vacation-like lives that are lined almost entirely by good fortune. But most of us have a wide assortment of positive and negative experiences. We can choose which ones we focus on.
- Lean back during a quiet moment—close your eyes. Visualize your earliest memory of love and kindness, whatever it was. Let your mind go forward in time, seeking out and recalling all the positive memories, big and small, you can find.
- Becoming aware of the blessings you’ve had in your life can fill you with a sense of wonder about the journey.