There’s a way to shift ourselves out of a dour mood. From a pre-pandemic blog I originally wrote for Psych Central (when I actually had a physical counseling office!), here’s how I returned to feeling more alive and happy.
We’ve all had those days where we feel off, or maybe worse. Sometimes, we’re down, overwhelmed, or in a funk. Yesterday was one of those days for me.
It started off great – in fact, I had a huge response to something I shared on social media. But soon, the elation turned to overwhelm. Keeping up with the posts on FB completely drained me. My thoughts turned towards how unhappy I was about the choice of my new office space. I was annoyed with my husband and daughter, and I didn’t feel good about having spent much of the day on the computer responding to posts rather than being present. Everything I looked at seemed to have the appearance of unpleasant and yucky.
But today, I woke up with a realization that I could shift that – and I did.
First of all, I noticed that I was telling stories about my experience, and they weren’t pleasant stories. I focused on all the things that were “wrong” or uncomfortable. I reminisced about what was missing. And you can be pretty certain that when thoughts center around what is wrong and what is missing, you’re gonna feel pretty crappy.
I knew that I needed to shift the story and turn it towards one thing that I know elevates mood: gratitude and appreciation. It’s not just me that finds this practice helpful – Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on strengths and meaningfulness, has studied the effects of gratitude and found that it significantly alleviates depression.
Going into my counseling office this morning, I found things to appreciate along the way. Instead of looking at the industrial buildings, I noticed all the trees lining the street. The sun was out, after several days of rain. A gray-haired Caucasian woman stopped to pick up a small piece of trash on the street. There was so much to appreciate, so much good and beauty around me. I felt my heart expand.
Driving into the parking lot, I felt grateful that I’m just a few minutes from my home, and the office complex has lovely flowers planted not far from my door. As I entered the suite, I loved that I could fix myself a cup of tea, and that my room had beautiful photos of trees – a special affinity for me.
Gratitude makes a huge difference. In just one day, I turned around from feeling doubtful and discouraged about the new counseling space to feeling more content and settled in. It’s only my third week subletting this space – naturally I needed some time to adjust. Because my mood was better and I was in a space of appreciation, I felt comfortable talking to one of my suite-mates about something I didn’t like, and we discovered a solution that worked for both of us.
The practice of gratitude shifted me into the present moment. Being fully aware and attentive in the here and now – and hence, letting go of stories – was the next step. It was great to change the stories in my head to more positive ones. But even more freeing was the ability to let those thoughts go altogether and be simply present.
Presence Creates Connection
On a two hour break between clients, I took my first walk through town from the office. A young Asian woman was taking a picture of something off to the right. I noticed that above the buildings the sky was a brilliant blue, and billowy white clouds floated above the concrete. I let her know that I noticed, too, and we both smiled. It was a moment of lovely connection, being present together with the magic of nature, even as it hovered over the concrete of the city.
My walk was somewhat ecstatic, noticing things I haven’t before when driving by in a hurry. My mind quieted; I felt present, joyful, and very much alive. As I returned to the office, I was very content to be exactly where I was, in this room, in this moment. I felt connected to myself, to my space, and to life.
The Power of Two Practices
This day was a wonderful lesson in the power of two practices that make a huge difference in my life: Gratitude and Presence. They consistently shift me out of bad moods – and out of negative thinking – into a more joyful, enlivening, fulfilling experience of life. The landscape, the office, the streets didn’t change; I did, and it changed my perception of everything.
You have this power, too, to change how you feel. In this very moment, now, you can feel more alive and happy. Look around at what you have, rather than what you don’t. Notice what’s available, right outside your door. You can feel grateful to have a door, to have clothes, to feel the gentle breeze in your hair, or the fact that you have a place to work or to safely fall asleep.
Let gratitude bring you into this moment, right now. Feel your breath, your body, your aliveness. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be fulfilling. You don’t need a lot to be happy. All you truly need is to be fully present and appreciative of this moment, right now.
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