Isn’t there a song that begins:
You gotta accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between?
For years I’ve been trying, but the negative insists on creeping in. As for the middling greyness, that confusing and disappointing place, that’s where I do most of my lurking.
Luckily it turns out there is help at hand.
It’s called, HELP!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman. It’s a collection of Guardian articles about his findings when delving into the murky world of self-help. I found it amusing and down-to-earth, describing situations and attitudes I recognized — for instance, unaccountable irritation when accosted in the street by charities. As with anything else, there’s both good and bad in the world of self-help and popular psychology.
One tip he liked — and the reason for my post — is the idea of writing in a gratitude journal. He says don’t force yourself to do it, as it must never become a chore — and only list 5 or 6 items a day.
Well, I’ve been writing one for over a month now, but (being lazy) I just add it to my personal journal. I don’t think I could have separate books with different things (can’t think how I survived school!) I have a small black ‘ideas journal’ (somewhere) but that’s as far as I go.
I wondered why it had to be a list of ‘gratitudes’ and not ‘likes’, but I suppose we are grateful they exist! However, grumpy things kept floating through my head while I was trying to think of nice things. This is frustrating when you’re writing a general journal that records all your thoughts (not just some), so when a friend admitted to keeping a gratitude list herself, ranging it alongside gripes in a steno pad, I gave in and allowed the more negative things a voice as well.
This wasn’t the advice we were given! I’m not sure gripe lists will encourage me in my drive towards positivity. This is the trouble with mixing notebooks with different purposes… or are they really that different? My friend claims annoyances swirl around in her head forever unless she writes them down, and then she forgets them. I know what she means, as once I’ve laid an annoyance bare on the page, I’m more likely to step back and laugh. My old journals always sound like someone else has lived my life.
Recently I was doing scans of an old handwritten 2009 journal. I have a vague plan to back these things up, but it’s tedious work. In any case, back in 2009 I was writing about the need to pay attention to the more positive things in life rather than be critical about myself and everything else. Presumably that thought goes back even further, but every time you think of it, it seems new…
Well, I may not have a separate pad to flip through when seeking happy inspiration, but I thought it would be fun to ransack each month and find the best. Each day’s list seems coloured by mood, and I don’t know why that surprised me! I imagined them as simple lists of items and random thoughts, but sometimes I was tired and angry, other times amused and chatty — and you can tell what sort of day it was just by the lists.
The following are my June gripes and gratitudes, whittled down. Obvious items such as friends, family, health and chocolate don’t appear, though originally were there. Couldn’t remove coffee — I would have had withdrawal symptoms! My hand shook every time it hovered over the delete key, so I had to leave it.
(1) Spiders who run very fast to a spot just above your head, then vanish in the blink of an eye.
(2) Fundamental attribution error (FAE).
(3) Boredom and procrastination.
(4) The way the most recently changed post in Notes automatically moves to the top of the list as soon as you click on an older note… and suddenly you’re back on the most recent post instead of the one you were trying to switch to. It throws you off balance.
(5) Yes, we have no aubergines.
(6) SPAM!!!! (Stomp stomp stompstompstomp).
(7) Apps with adverts all over, even when you’ve paid.
(8) Not having enough time or light in the day!
(9) Eternal terms and conditions.
(10) Technology moving so fast that people get left behind.
(11) Getting spam from a Honey and having to double-check it wasn’t ‘my’ Honey.
(12) When Mum turns up the volume, a bar appears on the TV screen, blanking out whichever subtitles are there. It seems to stay there for quite a long time while you’re on tenterhooks, wanting to know what they’re saying, and then she clicks it again, and it stays on for another long time. Drives me absolutely bats.
(13) Being bombarded by charity adverts.
(14) The entire Textilus document is indented, and I can’t un-indent it.
(15) Feeling too hot. Who put on the central heating, and why??
(16) Not seeing in time that the Grumpy Mule coffee I picked out is decaffeinated.
(1) Bed and sleep.
(3) Song ‘Butterfly’ by Danyel Gerard.
(5) Spider plants.
(6) New ideas — new ways of doing things.
(7) Homemade rice pudding, full of spice.
(8) Energy and enthusiasm.
(9) Those who are genuine.
(10) Zone-out days (Furry Blanket Days, in my case).
(11) Ty Beanie snails.
(12) Being safe from wolves.
(13) The existence of people who write things like gratitude journals.
(14) Cats with a sparkling sense of humour. (Nobody ever told Samson he shouldn’t hit women. He smacks every woman in the house who goes past — human or feline).
(15) The cat in the Caveman’s Prophecy game who’s just like Delilah, especially her plaintive mew.
(16) Fried mushrooms with egg and bacon.
(17) Tumbler tomato plant tumbling with tomatoes.
(18) Learning and mellowing through the years.
(19) Still being able to use Bryce when so many other Mac users have lost access to it.
(20) When I remember to wear my hair as a pigtail and it doesn’t get so much in the way when I sleep. Didn’t remember tonight…
I took so long polishing this post that June is long gone and July is nearly over. Hopefully there’ll be a list for July too; doubtless not till near the end of August! Watch this space.
Doubtless his lot is important in his own eyes; and the chief reason that we think he asks too large a place in our consideration must be our want of room for him, since we refer him to the Divine regard with perfect confidence; nay, it is even held sublime for our neighbour to expect the utmost there, however little he may have got from us.
~ Middlemarch (George Eliot)
Sarah has posted some questions on her blog Stars and Rainbows — I can never resist answering these!
1. What is the one thing that makes you happiest, each day?
A peaceful day in which nothing has to be done or faced, and no fires have to be fought.
2. What is your biggest dream?
A more insightful, thoughtful and understanding world.
3. If you could meet your 16-year-old self, what advice would you give to her/him?
Keep in touch with your friends if possible, and keep that diary going! One day you will want to remember, and sometimes what you have written is a surprise… often good as well as bad. Also record your dreams… those are of interest too. Photos are good too, but they are never as evocative or as useful, somehow, as your own words from the past.
4. What is your most prized possession?
My sight. 🙂
5. What did school teach you?
That you learn more when you take an interest and get involved in your studies, especially when you choose additional books of your own (from the library or wherever). I didn’t hear at lessons, and sometimes didn’t hear what our homework was to be, and so home-study and planning were particularly important.
6. What has life, thus far, taught you?
That there’s no point banging your head against a brick wall, and that some people will believe what they want against all reason. Just accept you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and that so long as you get on with some people most of the time, you’re fine!
7. How would you describe your style?
Best when light…. but I keep forgetting that! 😉
8. What is your favourite thing about blogging?
It’s a way of getting your view across, while discovering and talking to other bloggers. It’s a way of venting steam, preferably without scalding anyone. Your blog is a record of your past thoughts and actions, and sometimes a reminder to get on with something that you were putting off and blogged about ages ago…
It’s also that moment when you think “what could I blog about today? It could be absolutely anything!” and feel an anticipatory thrill.
9. What is your favourite meal? Describe it, in a way that will make the reader want it.
Prawn curry! The rich tang of the curry sauce steams and curls under your nose. The plump sultanas glisten alongside sweet pink prawns, nestling on a bed of pearly white rice. At your side sits a large, finely etched glass of chilled white wine — we like ours to be dessert wine. Sometimes you also have a crunchy spiced poppadum — I love to break mine into big pieces for scooping up the curry.
10. Imagine you are off on an adventure, and you need to pack a bag of food. What will your picnic consist of?
A Cornish Pasty or an onion bridie, if I felt a little more adventurous than usual! Sometimes cold quiche, or cous cous mixed with roast vegetables. Normally (more boringly) it would be a Marks and Sparks sandwich with a pricy little bottle of Coca-Cola.
11. What is the one thing that you wish everyone could understand?
It’s communication that’s important, not how one communicates.