We've all been there at one time or another - asking: "Why did this happen to me?" It could be something big or small. It could be a health crisis or we lose a job or someone is tailgating us or someone was rude to us. Why me?
For some people, if they were asked to write out key events in their lives - they would list all the negative things that happened or specific negative things that someone did to them. The events are very selective and based primarily on unhappy memories.
On the other hand, someone could re-write their story and focus on the positive moments leaving them feeling optimistic.
Strangely enough, we often take for granted things that are always there or occurring on a regular basis. Things like our ability to breathe, good health, jobs, friends, family and so on.
What we focus on grows. We can spin our lives either way. We all know people who have been through horrific events and have somehow turned things around and moved onward even stronger than before despite what happened to them.
Mothers Again Drunk Drivers - a mother's child was killed by a drunk driver - she started MADD
Wayne Dyer - lived in foster homes and had an angry alcoholic father - went on to become a best-selling author and inspirational speaker
Kris Carr - Stage 4 cancer in multiple organs - inspiring millions to live a "crazy sexy" healthy lifestyle despite having a life-threatening health problem
So how would someone move from feeling like a victim of life circumstances to feeling like a winner?
Research shows that practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to move out of feeling like a victim and states of depression. Gratitude is a perspective - a way of being.
This applies to even the worst of circumstances. Judy Perez was diagnosed with Stage IV inoperable pancreatic cancer at age 43. Her life changed forever. The first 4 weeks were a blur and she was rocked to her core. She said she had only 2 choices - fight with everything she had inside her or curl up and die. She was grateful for having a track record of standing up for and fighting for what was right for herself and others. Now it was time to fight for her life. She was keeping a gratitude journal and it was a reminder of all that she had to live for. If she could find strength on the worst day of her life, you too can find strength in any situation you find yourself in. Judy encourages us to find what we're most grateful for and let our attitude of gratitude lead us on our journey.
Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, recommends writing a brief timeline of major events in your life. Does your story focus on negative or uplifting events? If you feel like and play the role of helpless victim, re-write your story - as an adventure saga, where you're the resourceful hero overcoming every obstacle.
If you still feel like a victim, she suggests reading books about people stuck in devastating circumstances, but never feeling like a victim. Books such as An Unquiet Mind by Kathleen Redfield Jamison, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt or The Liars' Club by Mary Karr. My personal favorite is Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
At first, when we begin writing about what we're grateful for, it will feel mechanical. That's to be expected. We're developing a new habit. It's like deciding, today I'm going to write with my non-dominant hand. It takes a bit of getting used to. It's like strengthening a muscle.
We're just trying to form a new habit of shifting our thoughts to the other end of the spectrum of life. The more specific you get, the better. If you're grateful for a family member, write 5 specific reasons why. This is more beneficial than writing down 5 general things you're grateful for.
We can even think of what we're grateful for before falling asleep at night. This is a good way to distract your thoughts from what may be the usual worries of the day. I guarantee you'll fall asleep quicker if you try this. I know because I practice this one.
I must admit, I am not an expert at practicing the attitude of gratitude on a daily basis. I need to regularly remind myself to readjust my thinking to focus on what I am grateful for.
Let's train our brains to look for the good things that are happening in our lives. Doing so reduces stress in your body which in turn reduces inflammation in your body which reduces symptoms that can lead to health problems.
So even if someone is rude to you, you can be grateful that this person is showing you how you do not want to treat others. Martha Carlson who is living with metastatic breast cancer said she is grateful for the nurses who didn’t minimize her fear of needles, the staff that wave hello as she walks by, and the patients and advocates she met because of her diagnosis—people who aren’t afraid to get close to her.
And when you share and talk about what you're grateful for with others this amplifies your gratitude. It's like sharing a gift with someone.
Make a point of spending time with optimistic people too. If you're spending time with 5 people who also tend to feel grateful, this elevates your energy. If you typically spend time with 5 pessimistic people, this depletes your energy and leaves you feeling less than grateful. So be mindful of who you are interacting with and what you (and they) are focusing on.
If you believe the world is a good place and people are basically good, you'll attract more good into your life. And vice versa...
What can you do to feel more grateful even when you feel down? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
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Beth Matthews is a Registered Psychologist who is driven to help people feel better about themselves. She can help you if you are struggling in your life. You can learn easy-to-use strategies to help you cope with anything that comes your way.