Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds

Before I go further, I’ll come clean: I plagiarized this phrase from Emily Fletcher, a professional meditator. It appeared here. And I love it.

I didn’t just happen on Emily’s article. I was talking to my career coach yesterday about gratitude lists, because she was in the middle of writing one when I walked in for our session. I’d never heard of such a thing and I’m cynical by nature, but I like and respect this woman a lot so I heard her out; I was sold. I wrote down 100 things I was grateful for yesterday (she was number 100.) And I just completed my second day of 100. Each one took all of 15 minutes. But it felt really good.

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Thankful for Prospect Park, a dusting of snow, a flexible job so I could run after I dropped the kids off at school, a peeking blue sky, carefree dogs, a scraggly tree.

It’s not hard to believe that thinking positively makes you feel good. Sometimes it’s hard to think positively, especially if you find yourself in a negative situation – that kind of situation when someone feels compelled to say “look on the bright side” and you’d prefer to scratch them than find a silver lining – but a daily routine of positive reflection, it just so happens, permanently changes our natural outlook. Science says so. Here’s my crude explanation that might not be QUITE scientifically correct, but it’s the easiest way for me to understand how all of this works.

When we have certain thoughts, neurons are activated in the brain. Depending on the nature of those thoughts, those neurons take different paths – paths that lead to ultimately lead to feelings: happiness, sadness, apathy, whatever. The more we fire up the happy neurons, the more the paths they take become worn… making them easier to take again, and then easier, and then easier. It’s like exercise: the more you do it, the easier it gets. Also like exercise, I’d imagine cross-training is important too. So, not just writing the same things over and over again on each gratitude list, but identifying new things you’re grateful for each day. There’s of course my health and my kids and my husband and the roof over my head, but what about the umbrella cover the security guard gave me in the building lobby yesterday morning, or the man who looked me in the eye and thanked me for giving him a free seat on the subway, or the perfectly ripe avocado I put on my salad today?

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If you’re going to write 100 each day, you have to dig pretty deep. And knowing that, you naturally start to look at the world with a sunnier outlook… lest you find needing a lot more than 15 minutes each day to come up with 100 things!

So you ever wonder about those people who seem to find the good in everything all the time? Like: Are they for real? How can they do it? I think the answer is probably pretty simple. It’s because they find the good in everything all the time… it’s just second nature. Some of us have to work a little harder at watering the flowers, especially those that might just be tiny little buds, undetectable unless you’ve helped wire your brain to see them.

Let’s see how long I can stick with my daily gratitude list. Try it?

 

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