The happiest person I ever met was my husband’s grandmother. She recently passed away at age 95, but when she was alive she always had a smile on her face. As soon as you saw her you couldn’t help but feel the joy radiating from within. She was active, always in high spirits, and usually had a joke to share.
Once, wanting to crack the mystery of her never-fading smile, I asked her, “Savta Senior, what’s your secret? How are you always so happy?” With a twinkle in her eye she responded with a chuckle.
“Secret? It’s really no secret. Just don’t think about the bad things in life. Only focus on the good. That’s it.”
The more I contemplated her words, the more I realized the profundity of her advice. We choose how to perceive and interpret the events in our life, and we can choose to look at the positive.
When God created the world, the Torah says He “saw that it was very good.” Over the course of creation, this phrase is mentioned seven times. One might think it would have been sufficient to state it once at the end of creation, to wrap things up. So why does the Torah repeat the phrase over and over?
We human beings are hardwired for critical thinking. This amazing capability allows us to assess the world around us in an intelligent way. But this trait can also color our perspective and cause us to see the world through a negative lens. The Torah repeats the phrase “God saw that it was very good” to emphasize the point that we need to constantly be focusing on the good – every single day. That’s the key to happiness.
Reframing is a powerful technique that can turn any negative situation into something positive. Visiting my parents in Atlanta, I saw a beautiful piece of art hanging above the mantel. Although it was small, it looked like it had come from an expensive gallery. I asked my mother, “Where did you get this? It beautiful!”
She laughed and said, “Oh that? I picked it up at a garage sale for five dollars. It had such an ugly frame, so I had it reframed. The frame cost a fortune, but the art cost practically nothing.”
We have been blessed with the incredible power to reframe and train ourselves to put things in proper perspective. Our lives are comprised of thousands of images and experiences, a painting if you will, which we may view as ugly. But if we can take the time and energy to approach them in a different way, these images can be transformed into beautiful works of art. The key is in the frame; by putting time and effort into our reframing, we can see our lives for the masterpieces they really are.
For example, imagine you’re standing in line at the pharmacy waiting to pick up your prescription. You’re behind 10 people, and you wait and wait. Apparently, it’s the pharmacist’s first day on the job. If you want your medicine, it’s going to take some time.
How do you feel?
Situations like these can be incredibly frustrating. As the anger builds, you hear yourself saying, I’m wasting my time; I’m wasting my time. As the minutes tick upward, so does your anger level.
Now try to reframe the situation. Are you really wasting your time? Here’s your opportunity to work on mastering patience and anger management. This can become a very meaningful endeavor for self-improvement.
Reframing has the power to change the way we look at the world around us, from something as simple to standing in line at the pharmacy to the most impactful events in our lives. Practice reframing with your kids. Throw out a scenario and ask them how they can reframe it and look at it in a positive way.
The more you get into the habit of seeing the good, the happier you will be. This was Savta Senior’s secret.
This article was written leilui nishmat Miriam bat Tzvi Shalom.