The Best Gift You Can Give Your Loved Ones is Your Smile
I meet with hundreds of people every year who are going through a crisis of some sort—illness, injury, death of a loved one, loss of a job.
Some people seem to manage the crisis better than others.
Some seem to be more mentally resilient and to have more durable relationships. Some heal faster. Some maintain their sense of humor. But some get stuck in their pain and make every relationship toxic as if they want other people to suffer if they are suffering.
Many experts and religious leaders seem to suggest the same basic practices—mindfulness, focusing on the moment, having compassion for others, and expressing and demonstrating gratitude.
Maybe that is why everyone feels so wonderful at Christmas. Each of these practices has a place in the traditional celebration. Maybe that is why the celebration of Christmas starts so early!
Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a more centered and loving you by developing some of these as daily practices.
1. Break bad habits by being more mindful of what you are doing in the moment.
Nobody sets out to develop a bad habit.
Actually, we are always trying to help ourselves feel better. It’s just that some of the things we do to feel better actually harm us (in the long run or otherwise). When we are stressed out, we reach for the things we have experienced good feelings from before.
Drinking alcohol, shopping for nice things, and eating delicious foods are all pleasures in life that are perfectly fine when they are done in moderation and with consideration for how they fit into our goals for our life. But if we let stress run our life, we start using these things to try to feel better, instead of dealing with the root cause of the stress. Soon, we need those habits just to function at a normal level, and we rarely feel better than normal. Meanwhile, the underlying stress acts like a drain on us, constantly taking away the good feelings we try to fill ourselves up with.
We can break bad habits by taking time to pay attention to what we are doing in the moment and think through our choices. Next time you reach for that cigarette, bottle of painkillers, or load up your favorite online shopping page, stop and ask: “Why am I doing this?”
2. Demonstrate true compassion for others by listening to and observing them, rather than going with your gut feeling.
When most people think of “empathy”, they think it is intuitive, or going with your “gut feeling” about what might help someone most. In reality, though, this definition of empathy is not correct—at least if “empathy” is supposed to mean “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.
One oft-cited exercise for developing empathy is to “put yourself in the other person’s shoes”. How would you feel if you were in their situation? What would you want someone to do for you?
The problem with this approach, though, is that you and that person might have different feelings and wishes. For example, you might wish that someone would pamper you and treat you like royalty when you were sick in bed. But someone else in that situation might wish to be treated normally or even distracted from their illness. You might think you are practicing empathy by going with your gut feeling and fussing over a sick person. But depending on who it is, your actions might not be helping them feel better—they could even be making them feel worse.
Remember, good intentions aren’t everything—to be truly empathetic and avoid selfishly projecting our own desires and motivations onto others, we must study others and identify what their wishes are. They will often be different from what we ourselves would wish in a given situation.
3. Let go of negative thoughts and feelings with meditation.
Meditation has been called “the art of letting go”. In meditation, people typically have the goal of letting go of all feelings and thoughts that arise while they are being still.
We often don’t realize how much negative thoughts and feelings are influencing us because they have a tendency to build on themselves. Perhaps somebody you trusted hurt you, and you have been avoiding that person ever since. That’s normal, isn’t it? Nobody wants to repeat their mistakes. But maybe over the years, you have started to avoid more and more people. Maybe first it was just people who reminded you of that person, but now you find it hard to trust anyone.
Clinging to pain and anger is a protective mechanism to help us avoid repeating the same mistake, but it becomes limiting when we cling to it too long. If we choose to accept bad feelings without dwelling on them, though, we can feel better and move on faster when a bad event occurs.
If you’re not sure how to begin meditating, it is very simple to start! Here is a list of 20 ideas on what to focus on.
4. Take time to be grateful.
For many people, the word “grateful” is tinged by memories of a toxic relationship with a parent or spouse. “You should just be grateful for what you have!” is often used as a cutting put-down to make victims feel guilty about expressing emotion or having a need. But feeling grateful for all of the blessings in your life is really a happy and positive feeling.
Here is a list of questions from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute which you can answer to help you feel more grateful and light-hearted in your day to day life.
1. Who makes you laugh?
2. What went especially well for you yesterday?
3. What is your special talent? How did you come by it, and how can you share it with others?
4. What was the most beautiful thing you noticed recently?
5. What do you use every day and often take for granted? How does it enrich your life? Who made it and where did it come from?
6. What activity makes you happy?
7. Have you done something recently of which you are particularly proud?
8. Who helps make your life feel richer? And how does he or she do it?
9. What do you appreciate most about where you live?
10. What’s the best thing that happened to you in the last week? How did it make you happy?
11. Whose smile do you love to see?
12. What’s the most memorable experience from the last year? Even if it was a sad or unhappy event, did you learn something from it for which you are grateful?
13. Has anyone done a good deed for you recently? How did it make you feel?
14. Which one of the seven senses do you appreciate most today? Smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight, the vestibular system (balance) or proprioception (sensory information that contributes to the sense of position of self and movement intuitively)?
Thinking about how you would answer these questions, don’t you feel a little better already?
(When all else fails, watch a funny dog video on You Tube! https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.