Whenever my mother made yams, sweet potatoes or squash of any kind, I pulled the same charade. Some slipped into my napkin, some slipped off my plate. In desperate times I’d mash them into a thin layer making it look as if I’d eaten every bite, but my mother knew my tricks. She was never fooled. She insisted I finish everything before leaving the table and the longer it took me to eat my squash, the longer I sat there.
We had a clean plate rule in our house and sometimes it felt as if I sat at the table for hours figuring out ways to avoid eating that stuff. Surely my mother could see squash and I were never going to mix. No amount of sighing, laying my head on my arm or rolling my eyes at the empty room could convince my mother I was doing all I could to finish my dinner.
“You should be grateful Germaine. Some children don’t have anything to eat tonight.” Of course I thought the opposite. Those kids were the lucky ones.
She would use a version of this whenever I took something for granted.
“Some kids walk barefoot to school. You should be grateful for those boots”, even though my twelve-year-old self thought they were the clunky-est things I’d ever seen.
I grew up in a time of prosperity. When parents did all they could to give their kids a better life, but my parents had grown up in a different time. They were children during the Great Depression and my parents always reminded me of that. I had things they never took for granted. Food security, a nice home, shopping malls filled with tons of unnecessary things. As a kid I could never fully relate to that and honestly as an adult I really couldn’t either… until this year.
This is our Great Depression. It’s been a year of empty shelves in grocery stores, high unemployment, and political turmoil, but unlike the Great Depression, it’s been a year of isolation. We are learning to rely on our own devises which is why, now more than ever, we need to learn how to focus on the positive.
But how can we feel grateful when we’re dealing with so much negativity?
According to Rick Hanson, the best-selling author of Buddhas’s Brain we all suffer from a “negativity bias”. He says, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” So how do we flip that switch to feel more positive than negative?
Michael Bergeisen of The Greater Good Magazine interviewed Rick Hanson. Bergeisen says, “Drawing on some of the latest findings from neuroscience, Hanson has spent years exploring how we can overcome our brain’s natural “negativity bias” and learn to internalize positive experiences more deeply—while minimizing the harmful physical and psychological effects of dwelling on the negative.”
And the way to do that is to practice feeling gratitude.
Feeling negative has a big impact not only on our mental health, but on our physical health too.
So practicing gratitude in a year filled with so much negativity is imperative to improving our outlook and our lives.
There are many ways to begin a gratitude practice but I’m going to list some excerpts from Bergeisen’s interview with Hanson to get you started.
As my mother would say each time squash was served, “just try it, you may surprise yourself and like it after all.”
Small Steps Towards Positivity
1. Take five to ten minutes to meditate each day and pay “attention to the internal sensations of your body.”
Close your eyes, and breathe deeply while appreciating all the work your body does for you. We are incredible beings with amazing capabilities. Feeling grateful for our health and just being able to take a long, deep breath is the easiest way to begin practicing gratitude.
2. Stop ruminating over negative events or thoughts.
I’m the first one to tell you I’ve spent many nights worrying about something I’ve said or done wrong. These negative thoughts leave “behind traces of neural structure that are negativistic, depressive, pessimistic, and very self-critical.” As Hanson says, we need to “actively build up positive implicit memories to balance this unfair accumulation of negative implicit memoriess.” In order to do that, we must start to really notice all the good things that happen in our day. The little things we don’t always pay attention to or fail to accept like a compliment about a job well done or a casual comment about how good we look.
3. Allow yourself to fully absorb these positive daily events, no matter how small they may seem.
“In other words, the way to remember something is to make it intense, felt in the body, and lasting. That’s how we give those neurons lots and lots time to fire together so they start wiring together. So rather than noticing it and feeling good for a couple of seconds, stay with it. Relish it, enjoy it, for 10, 20, or 30 seconds, so it really starts developing neural structuree.” By savoring these small positives, we’re actually training our brain to think more positively and recreating a neurological structure that will be more positive than negative. Time to channel Kenneth from 30 Rock…
4. If possible, “take a current positive experience and have it kind of go down inside to an old place of pain.”
“Do not do this if you have a trauma history and you get flooded if you think about old pain.” But if you can, try to hold onto the positive experience for 10, 20 or 30 seconds straight. “If you can’t do that, don’t worry about this step. But if you can do that, wow, this fourth step is really powerful. Honestly over many years, it’s how I filled my own hole in the heart.” Perhaps this could be the way to start appreciating squash…
The biggest takeaway and most positive scientific fact I learned about starting a gratitude practice is according to Rick Hanson, by consistently practicing gratitude, we can begin to change our outlook in a mere three days. Three days! You can’t even binge watch all seven seasons of 30 Rock in that amount of time.
As usual, my mother was right. Instead of complaining about that plate of squash, maybe had I felt more grateful for it, I would have learned to like it… then again…
I know, being negative is easier and practicing gratitude is a lot like sit-ups. Most of us could do them in our home without ever having to head to a health club, but we don’t. We turn it into a chore, making it a big deal instead of taking a few steps towards practicing a healthier routine.
But this year, above all others, practicing gratitude is the only way to recover from a pandemic and all the other negative events we’ve been bombarded with.
So I’m giving thanks to the Greater Good Magazine and feeling grateful for finding this interview by Michael Bergeisen with Rick Hanson. Knowing there is proven science that being positive can actually change our lives for the better is empowering.
While I’m at it…
Thank you to all our loyal customers, friends and family who have consistently supported us thru the years. We owe our success to you and for you, we are eternally grateful.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
Let ME know:
What are your tips & tricks to staying positive during difficult times?
Please share your own thoughts with us – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!