Developing a new Appreciation of Life

 

Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, show us how spotting the little miracles around us can improve our mental wellbeing. 

We understand why appreciation can be a positive experience for the person being appreciated. Researchers have found it also has a very positive impact on us when we express our appreciation or have a moment of appreciation for something around us. Let’s see what mental health and wellbeing and appreciation have in common. 

 

Natural negativity bias 
 

Our brain has a natural negativity bias. We just focus on negative experiences more and as a result we may go through a day ready to detect and challenge any potential nuisance or anything worse. Imagine you have popped to the shops to buy eggs, milk, bread, butter and bananas. You may lose your patience somewhat queuing outside and then you enter the shop slightly annoyed or distracted. When you come home you realise you’ve forgotten to buy butter. How do you feel in that moment? Can you see yourself smiling and appreciating all four items you did bring home with you? It’s hard, isn’t it? Most of us will declare our shopping trip a complete disaster. However, there’s no denying two things – good and bad – happened. Can we take in some good too? If so, how? 

 
These are a few things that may go through our mind when we live through a more dramatic experience, like for example a lockdown: 
 

  • We cannot believe it all happened and for some time find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that it did. 
     
  • We know this sort of thing might happen but we just didn’t think it would ever happen to us or in our town. 
     
  • We aren’t fully sure what to do next and how to respond to a world that nowadays seems strange and unpredictable. 
     
  • Some goals we had for ourselves before the lockdown are now gone or perhaps lost much of the meaning they used to have. 

With openness and a bit of effort you begin to train in seeing the goodness and spot these little miracles around you more often. Appreciation of life already exists within you. Use it, don’t lose it! 

 

Rest and digest state 
 

Dramatic events make us feel unsafe. Life could be tough and stressful even without a global pandemic. Is it possible to notice and cherish some of the positives in our daily life and restore some inner balance? The answer is yes. Our nervous system has two circuits: one deals with our fight-flight-freeze responses (anxiety, anger etc) and the other one does the opposite allowing us to get into the so called ‘rest and digest’ state. By engaging in some soothing activities, we will be able to gradually take our nervous system – and our body and mind – out of this overwhelming cycle of perpetual threat and worry.  

If we continue using only the ‘negative’ circuit of the nervous system then our mental health and wellbeing are going to deteriorate. Can we activate the ‘restful’ circuit more often? We can try to get off the autopilot in our life. We can try to behave differently and calm our critical mind. Appreciation of life can start with a simple walk in nature: 
 

  • Set an intention at the very beginning to enjoy a restful walk rather than get some fresh air and solve a problem at the same time. 
     
  • Engage all your senses not just eyes, for example try to feel the breeze on your face. 
     
  • Pause, look around to find something soothing and take a picture with your heart. 
     
  • Check if you’re still on your walk or if the mind already has wandered off to some other place and time. 
     
  • Offer yourself an inner smile or…just smile!

 

With openness and a bit of effort you begin to train in seeing the goodness and spot these little miracles around you more often. Appreciation of life already exists within you. Use it, don’t lose it! 

 

Wiser, stronger and more resilient 
 

Searching for many different opportunities to appreciate life will take careful consideration. It also requires us to be patient with ourselves and to treat ourselves with kindness. A good approach is to slow down, reflect, and try again. By proactively exploring different sources of our appreciation for life we will make more meaningful connection with our environment and other people. As we’re coming out of lockdown, there’s still some uncertainty and disruptions but all of it doesn’t have to diminish our appreciation in life. These four L.I.F.E. steps can help: 
 

  • L – looking for ways to appreciate life going forward. 
     

  • I – interrupting our fight-flight-freeze patterns. 
     

  • F – finding inner balance and soothing the nervous system. 
     

  • E – ensuring the positive things that occur around us don’t drift away, quickly forgotten. 
     

Appreciation for life can reveal a changed sense of purpose. Life meaning and purpose is not something you stumble upon or just wake up to one day and magically possess. Meaning and purpose are rather created than discovered. Let’s not wait for them to come to us, let’s exercise daily mental health self-care and come through the lockdown wiser, stronger and more resilient.  

This article is based on ‘Applied Positive Psychology’ and The Post-Traumatic Growth Workbook by Richard Tedeschi and Bret Moore.