Most of us have had incidents, people or situations in our lives that were difficult. Yet despite the issues and problems from the past, life today can be good. Many of us have worked hard to put the past to rest and that is what this issue of Life Adventure Notes is about.
Before you enjoy the main article about finding satisfaction with your past, I thought you might like a brief pictorial tour of my past!
With my brother:
In my former career as an environmental scientist:
At the family camp in Maine:
With a grandson:
If you are working on changing how satisfied you are with the past, I hope you too can find some old pictures that show you smiling. It works wonders towards remembering the good times.
SATISFACTION WITH THE PAST
As we head into Independence Day celebrations, it might be worth remembering that our country was founded on the premise that each of us deserves “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. We learned these three concepts from the Declaration of Independence back in elementary school.
But what does “happiness” really mean? How do you feel “happy”? What makes you “happy”? Is it different for each of us?
In Authentic Happiness, author Martin Seligman has a lot to say about happiness. And while he focuses on positive emotions, he also recognizes negative emotions that make us unhappy.
According to Seligman, positive emotions can be about the past, for example satisfaction, fulfillment or pride. Positive emotions in the present include joy, calm, and pleasure. When we focus on the future, our positive emotions can include optimism, hope, or faith. This month, we will discuss the past and how your thoughts about what you have experienced affect your feelings about your past.
Emotions about the past can range from contentment and fulfillment to unrelieved bitterness and vengeful anger. These emotions are completely determined by your thoughts about your past. These thoughts can hold you prisoner to your past or can set you free to soar into the present and future.
Think back to an unresolved past issue when someone you trusted betrayed you. What emotion(s) do you feel when you think about this situation?
Now consider a past situation where there was conflict, and you overcame your adversity in an honorable way. What emotion(s) do you feel when you focus on this?
The thought of someone you trusted betraying you might raise anger, furor, or resentment – as well as your blood pressure! Yet if you focus on other aspects of that situation, your thoughts will be less negative. For example, think, “it all worked out for the best” or “I’m a better judge of character now.” The situation where you succeeded against the odds might elicit feelings of pride, peace, or satisfaction. But if you focus instead on the circumstances or people who made life tough, you might feel anger or resentment. The past situations haven’t changed; only how you think of them.
We all see life through filters that are woven from our experiences. You may interpret a statement in a positive way while the person next to you might interpret it negatively based on his/her past experience. Throughout life, your interpretations, memories or thoughts govern what emotion will rise in any situation. Knowing and understanding this can support you in escaping the dogmas that keep so many people tethered to their past.
Dwelling on the past negatively will enhance your feelings of victimization, helplessness, and co-dependence. Telling the same sad story reinforces it in your mind – and in the minds of others. Acting out or dramatizing it again can cause you health problems – and possible avoidance by those who don’t want to hear it anymore. Additionally, revisiting past wrongs doesn’t allow the emotions to rest or dissipate, as they will naturally do if left alone. This process, over time, releases you to a calmer state of mind.
You can’t change your past, but you can shift your thoughts and feelings about it. Consider what events you are still stewing about. Try examining them from a different viewpoint, work on accepting that these things happened and look for the positive in the situation. It takes courage to look at something from a totally different aspect, to consider the circumstances from the other person’s point of view, to acknowledge what responsibility you may have had in the end result.
Changing your thoughts about your story changes the story itself. One of my favorite truisms is “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Not appreciating and savoring the good events in your past and overemphasis of the bad ones are the two culprits that undermine serenity, contentment, and satisfaction.
Gratitude corrects the first issue. How often do you feel grateful or thankful for all the aspects of your life, past and present? Taking a minute to count some of your “gratitudes” while waiting for a traffic light to change will improve your driving experience and your attitude. Being conscious of saying “thank you” to anyone who serves or helps you will improve your day as well as theirs.
Keeping a gratitude journal is another way to list the things you are thankful for. Before going to bed each night, write down five things that happened during the day for which you are grateful. And to help shift your thoughts (and therefore your feelings) about the past, you might want to consider keeping a list of thanks for past events and people in your life. Perhaps you can add one item to your past list each day. Studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal not only makes you more aware of the positive things in your life, but also causes you to seek out and look for daily happenings that make you feel grateful (and therefore happier).
The reason gratitude works to increase life satisfaction is that it amplifies good memories. Forgiveness can amend your memories of past hurts. Without forgiveness, past violations can create bitterness – which hurts you more than it does anyone else. Without forgiveness, past transgressions only increase in offense, not decrease. Memory becomes jaded with repeated scrutiny so that the original offense might not even resemble the memory. There is a lot about our culture that encourages bitterness and a violent response (whether physical, mental or emotional) to wrongs being done. Again, it takes courage and tenacity to go against those external forces that you have internalized over your lifetime. Forgiveness is an act of great courage.
Forgiveness can release you from the prison of your own thought-making. The perpetrator of the wrongdoing isn’t directly hurt by your harboring a grudge or resentment, but you are. Not only will you be healthier, but your spirit will be set free with forgiveness.
It may be too difficult to try forgiveness for your greatest memory of being harmed. So try something smaller, less volatile. If someone cuts you off in traffic or you experience any other non-personal frustration, start forgiveness there. It is more difficult to forgive someone for an affront that feels very personal; practice on the impersonal harm in order to be more successful with the ones that feel as though they were aimed directly at you.
And remember, this takes time. As they say, “happiness is an inside job.” And it is. And shifting your perception of how you see life and your history is a major change, so be patient – and diligent – with yourself.
What pieces of your past are still causing you pain? How can you shift your thinking about them to create more positive feelings?
What times and people from your past are you grateful for?
How can you create forgiveness today for some small thing that went wrong?
How would you like to see your past? What thoughts will get you there?
The Journey~ by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.