Sunday, May 23, 2010

Post-Divorce Gratitude

People who are more grateful are happier. It’s simply a fact. So I’m thinking that in the post-divorce unhappy period, why not practice gratitude in the hopes of being happier?

But how to be more grateful? Sonja Lyubormirsky gives the how-tos in her book the How of Happiness. I wanted to highlight a few ideas here and you can also see another blog and newsletter I’ve written about the subject.

I like five of the ways Lyubormirsky shows that gratitude is thought to actually increase happiness. These include savoring the positives in your life, feeling better about yourself as a result, feeling more connected with others who contribute to the positives in your life, reducing the envy and jealousy which are incompatible with gratitude and actually starting to feel more positive about the good things we have. Not only are these good things for everyone, but post-divorce they’re particularly useful. They counter the natural self-esteem drops (I must be inadequate for not making the marriage work) and envy increases (look at that happy family, and that one, and that one) which many experience.

The typical way to practice gratitude is the gratitude journal written daily, a few times a week or weekly, depending on your personal needs. Thinking about gratitude without writing about it is another way to practice. And an interesting twist is to think about something for which you are not grateful, e.g., the ungrateful thought that your kids never spontaneously tell you they love you. Then counter it with a grateful thought about how they do spontaneously hug you or call you.

Another really potent approach is to tell someone the reasons you are grateful to them, by letter or in person. Even just writing a gratitude letter without giving it seems to increase happiness.

Finding a gratitude buddy is helpful to some. Being accountable to someone else may increase your chances of sticking to a gratitude plan. Sharing something you’re grateful for with another person is also a way of enhancing our own experience of gratitude.

Earlier this evening I mentioned to my son how much I love the smell of dusk at this time of year; he enthusiastically said he felt the same which was very pleasing to me. Okay, I choose to think he was being serious though I recognize he may have been slightly sarcastic (yeah mom, I smell another one of your hokey positive psychology interventions).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Post-divorce Decluttering

There’s a lot of stuff in a marriage. Furniture, papers, pictures and photos, gifts received, kitchenware and bathrooms full of stuff. I still find the odd item after nearly 9 years. Some things are keepers. You don’t want to have to buy a new blender for no good reason. Others, they have bad karma and you just know it. One must honor that and deal with it appropriately, i.e., such items must get gone. And you can see another blog entry for an example of this.

Cluttering experts believe that physical clutter reflects mental clutter. I’m going to have to agree but I mean it in the kindest way. I have piles of unread journals. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a thing. They represent something to me and I’m not sure I want to let that thing go just yet.

Now I’m not saying that if you keep stuff from the marriage you haven’t let go. But you have to consider what that particular stuff means to you. Consider if it’s dragging you down. Consider how you feel and what you think when you see it. Consider what it would be like for you if it were gone.

If you’re early on in this process, large plastic bags full of stuff for the dump or good will are extremely liberating. It’s like letting to of deadweight. There’s almost a physical lightness that comes of getting rid of stuff. It can be downright fun.

And if you have any doubt, check out John Lennon’s Instant Karma.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Forgive the Mistakes Post-divorce

Short of having the means to go back in time and change the past, how do we let go of our mistakes? Do we say, I forgive me for flunking that exam because I partied and didn't study, I forgive me for going to law school when I really wanted to join the Peace Corps, I forgive me for getting married when I wasn’t sure, or...[your issue here]?

How do we move from believing we've done something wrong to accepting our imperfections? You have to notice the self-blame and take action to forgive yourself. It goes something like this.

First, you have to admit that you've done something forgiveness-worthy. You married too young, too fast, a person you had qualms about from the start, or ...[your reason here].

Next, you must experience the feelings of shame, guilt and regret. Accepting responsibility is required. I messed up and I have no one (really) to blame but myself. No one forced me to marry, I could have withstood being a single parent, not pleasing him/her, not pleasing the families, or...[your reason here]. You must accept that you made the choice. You must allow youreself to experience that it feels bad.

Finally, you must try for understanding and acceptance. It seemed like a good choice at the time. No one's perfect. This doesn't make me a worthless person. Instead of self-blame and recrimination, you have to figure out what you're going to do about it now. How can you move forward? How can you handle the next relationship differently? How can you...[your goal here]? It's not forgetting, but forgiving and remembering to do something different.

Self-forgiving people, like other-forgiving people, have better health and mental health. It's not surprising, since guilt, shame, anger and self-criticism are stressful. So take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and let go, at least for right now. Take a step into your self-forgiving future. And while you’re at it, consider if there’s anyone else you might need to forgive.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Favorite Mistakes

And the mistakes seem to me as crucial as the successes…Richard Holmes

I found the story of Humphry Davy’s discovery of laughing gas fascinating. Not only did he serendipitously discover that it numbed pain, but then, no one wanted to use it. It seems that physicians believed that patients who expressed pain would be able to cope with surgery. They believed the pain showed that the body was fighting and it was a good thing. Ouch.

I’m reminded of people who were in painful marriages and continued, feeling they should be experiencing the pain, that it was part of a real relationship. Often these same people experience amazing relief after divorce. I’m not saying get divorced, I’m just saying that you have to listen to your pain. I hear this often about jobs . The job is painful and it’s painful to consider leaving. Continuing in the pain is perhaps not such a good thing. Continuing in one’s mistake is also perhaps not such a good thing.

It took 40 years for doctors to use nitrous oxide in surgeries. Aren’t we glad they finally figured it out? So how about you? Have you finally figured it out? What have you learned from the mistakes of your marriage? This is the glorious part of making mistakes…the ability to learn from them.

Read about the Humphry Davy story.

Listen to Sheryl Crow, My Favorite Mistake