I went out to my car last week and found the rear window smashed and two things taken from my back seat – an empty briefcase and a ratty old Jansport backpack with my gym stuff in it. “They” did it in the middle of the night. (Don’t you want to find out who “they” are?…your own personal “they’s”) Anyway, while the briefcase was well worn and nice, my biggest sense of loss came from the theft of my combination lock. I remember years ago when I opened the packaging and read that the combination was 28 -2-8. C’mon! It just can’t get any easier than that….and I loved my combination lock. I felt so lucky to have picked it out.
Martin Seligman, one of our greatest psychologists, has long studied happiness. He has been striving for years to develop an approach to mental health treatment which transcends the age-old medical model of diagnosis of a “disorder” and then working to eliminate the “disorder.” Seligman wondered why we can’t move above the baseline of functionality, into the realm of happiness and well-being. This notion has captured the enthusiasm of a large segment of the mental health community. Just note the surge of people incorporating “mindfulness” into their practices. Mindfulness is both a way to ease stress and internal pain and a path to affirmative well-being.
So what does a combination lock have to do with Seligman and positive psychology? Well, one of the most important tools for achieving well-being is appreciation. Cultivating a sense of appreciation for the good in our lives cushions us against the deeper dismay which will always accompany loss. Also, appreciation buoys our spirits in the day to day. One of Seligman’s best exercises is the “Three Blessings.” Each night before you lay down to sleep, take a notebook or piece of paper and write down three blessings of the day just ending. This will train your mind to be alert to both the big and the little things which we can appreciate in life. These little things can be a pleasant exchange with our partner or a friend; the burst of life in the leaves that are unfolding as Spring arrives; the wag of our dog’s tail because we are really, really loved; the good feeling from not eating something we know isn’t good for us; a great movie we just watched or the bike ride we completed. Nothing should be taken for granted. We live in a world which may often seem bent on eroding any sense of well-being. We can keep that force at bay when we embrace the little treasures.
I’m going to store today and will myself to pick a lock with my birthday as a combination. I’ll tell you how it goes.