Bad things can happen to anyone. While we can take action to try to prevent some bad things by driving cautiously, choosing friends carefully, eating reasonably, the reality is that many events are completely beyond our control.
We do have some control, however, over how we respond to events. You’ve probably witnessed different people reacting quite differently to the same bad event. While one person remains completely devastated, another emerges apparently unscathed.
Let’s look at Bea and Dee. Both have disentangled themselves from equally difficult relationships.
Bea continues to suffer from the events of that relationship. Her feelings are overwhelmingly negative; she is suspicious, angry, and worried. Her body continues to trouble her with fatigue and lethargy; she can’t seem to muster the energy to go on with her life as friends urge her to do. Her thoughts relive past incidents over and over: how she has been wronged, what she should have done, what she should have said.
Dee has thrived since the end of her relationship. Her feelings are largely positive and optimistic, finding joy and freedom in opportunities now open to her. Her body is full of energy; she’s more active than she has been in years. She seldom thinks of bad times from the past at all anymore, instead she thinks about the exciting possibilities now emerging.
Now, it’s doubtful that Bea can transform her outlook into Dee’s by simply saying, “I choose to have a positive attitude.” Telling yourself to think positively may help; however, it’s not a cure-all.
Abraham Maslow has written that if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If all you have in your “positive outlook toolbox” is the phrase, “Think positively,” then a few additional “tools” may be in order.
Among the tools that are useful for developing positive outlook are:
- make a regular practice of looking for opportunities to be grateful.
- express appreciation to others.
- keep a journal of your “blessings”— positive relationships, accomplishments, and events.
Here’s another tool you might add to your positive outlook toolbox: look for the “gift in the event.” To do so, examine and analyze the negative event. What effect—what gift—have you gained from this event that you would not otherwise have?
Dee was able to find an important gift in her dreadful experience. Having felt controlled and manipulated for so long, she recognized and valued freedom and independence when she finally gained it. Without the contrast, she feels she might have taken freedom for granted, not fully appreciating its preciousness.
Of course, you don’t want to experience negative events just so you can appreciate the contrast! However, when negative events happen, one worthwhile tool is to look for any positive result (gift) you received from it.
I first heard the phrase, “Look for the gift in the event” from Becky Wentzell. Becky is RT certified faculty, and is skilled with the ability to detect the gift in most any event. I particularly appreciate her influence in this column.
Can you find a gift in any of your negative events?