You’re cooking or cleaning and the radio is on in the background to keep you company. You really are not listening and have no idea what’s being said, but suddenly “Israel” is mentioned and you rush over, turn up the volume and listen. How does that happen? What made you hear that word? What made you pay attention, while you had ignored the thousands of other words that might have been said in the minutes before? More importantly, how can we get that to work for us and make us happier?
I recently heard a fascinating lecture by Roz Malin, a motivational speaker, entitled “Happiness is a Choice”. In the lecture Ms. Malin explains just how this process works and how we can use it to feel better about ourselves and the various issues we have to cope with.
You see it is impossible to deal with two opposite emotions at the same time. When we feel joy, we cannot feel sadness at that same moment. What we focus on, we will attract. Just as our mind has been trained to focus when we hear the words “Jew” or “Israel,” no matter where we are or what we are doing, so too, we can train our mind to focus on happiness and let joy enter our being while other emotions are ignored. But just how does a well spouse manage to focus on the positive and thus attract more happiness into his/her life?
Ms. Malin explained that at the base of our skull is our RAS, our Reticular Activating System. It is this system that filters the information we receive and lets into our psyche what agrees with our inner core, whether it is positive or negative. Further, she says there is a way to reprogram our RAS so that we allow in more positive data and focus on things that are more affirming instead of those that are negative.
Ms. Malin’s plan involves less than five minutes of our time ever day, a gratitude journal and a commitment of at least 21 consecutive days in order to make us happier human beings. A minimal investment for great rewards.
Each night, before we go to sleep, we must write down in our journal, three things we are grateful for. Our gratitude journal should have no other purpose but to record this information. It should be pleasant to look at (not just a few pieces of paper stapled together) and perhaps be enhanced with a special pen that is for this purpose alone. The statements of gratitude must be written and not just spoken out loud or thought about. Writing uses a different part of your brain than thinking or speaking. The journal writing must be done uninterrupted for 21 days or more because it takes 21 days to make a habit. After about a month of keeping your journal you will begin to see a change in your outlook. It is important to continue keeping the journal, writing in it each night, long after you begin to feel more positive, as this will help that feeling of happiness become a part of you.
For well spouses, this may not be an easy task. After care giving 24/7, and coping with the negative feelings that can accompany daily chores, caregivers may have to really search for things to feel grateful for. But even if at first, all you can find to write about is that your teeth have no cavities or you were able to get a little more uninterrupted sleep last night, find any three things each day for which you are grateful. You will start to see that finding things to write down gets easier with time and that is the beginning of your change.
It is very important to be consistent and not miss a day. Writing in your journal before you light candles Friday night and again after Havdalah or before bed when Shabbos is over, enables you to stay with the program. And the program is worth staying with!
In the end, the way to enjoy life is to appreciate what you have. It is not to long for things we don’t have through a misguided sense of entitlement. For many well spouses, seeing what is still good in their lives has been lost. They have been blinded by the drudgery that comes with care giving. Having a gratitude journal and writing in it each night is a way of bringing a feeling of happiness back into their life.