What’s Wrong With Me? What’s Right With Me?

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Many of us go through life (I know I do), too often, wondering what’s wrong — with me? with my life? with my work? I listen to this question almost daily in my work. Once that question is asked, we go about trying to fix an illusive problem — unhappiness, anger, lack of motivation, failure, shortcomings, and on. I’ve heard myself asking this question and then feel even more dissatisfied. I’ve heard parents say it to their children and then watch as the child withdraws a bit into the question or fights back.

Our parents want(ed) what’s best for us and think that by pointing out our shortcomings we’ll become better people. I remember when my Dad once said that he raised all his children without any common sense. I spent months trying to assess and prove him wrong by exercising common sense as often as possible only to realize I, indeed, had common sense most of the time.

What if there is nothing wrong? What if we could spend equal time acknowledging and noticing what is right? There will always be things that we are not good at no matter how hard we try. There are more things we are good at. Science is now showing that we become better people when we know what we are good at AND know where we can improve. What are you good at? Choose one thing. How can you become even better at it?

What if, instead of asking “what was wrong with my day”, we began to ask what went well today and where can I improve? A practice I used when I worked in preschool, when I worked with children at Kripalu Center, and, again, with my own daughter when she was young was ‘the three plusses and a wish.’ This is a practice to learn to notice the good and then frame what could be improved as a wish. I can only express the wish after I’ve identified the three plusses or positive attributes about myself or someone else.

Have you found yourself asking “what’s wrong with me?” Perhaps you made a mistake at work, heard someone criticize you, wonder where you went wrong — with raising your children, being in a job that is unfulfilling, or being alone when your friends are all in relationships? Many of us seem wired to point out the negative shortcomings in ourselves, our situations, and our world. Yes, when we lived hundreds of years ago in the wilderness of nature, it benefitted us to be vigilant for warning signs of lurking danger. Yes, we are, even today, focused on what’s wrong. We go to the doctor and are asked, what’s wrong that needs fixing. We go to a therapist to get help fixing a shortcoming. We even call our mechanic to fix what’s wrong with our car. Rarely do we schedule many appointments just because we feel good and want to feel better.

When was the last time you noticed what’s right and what’s good? When did you last celebrate, really celebrate, a success? When we change our focus and notice the good, the good appreciates. When we notice our moments of kindness, gratitude, or a job well done, we prepare for more good. In short, we become happier and healthier.

With our children or grandchildren, teach them to notice what went well. How easy it is to point out their shortcomings — their outbursts, their sibling disagreements, or their whining. Remember, we all want what’s best for our children just as our parents wanted the best for us (in most cases). When we focus on the negative, we fuel the negative. When we focus on the positive, the positivity grows.

My first career was teaching preschool. I remember deciding to focus on trusting the children to do good and spent time each day teaching positive ways to communicate, both talking and listening. When two children had a disagreement, which often included violence, I’d have them sit in chairs facing one another with the simple instruction to sit with one another without touching until they could resolve their disagreement. They could get up on their own once they felt resolved and could drop their negativity. Around five minutes was a magic time and they would get up and go off to play and laugh together as BFF’s. Then, I didn’t really understand what happened. All I knew is that I trusted them to figure out how to resolve their disagreement without violence. That time sitting together provided the space and time to refocus their attention on the good — they were very creative in their conversations that lead to resolution. They also made eye contact which leads to a calm and connect response.

Another practice I used was the ‘three plusses and a wish’ in order for them to learn to focus on the good and frame their negativity as a wish. Over time, that room full of preschoolers from challenging homes began to be happier and kinder to one another.

For today, I challenge you to ask what is going well and ask “what is right with me?”. And, if you must, frame the negative as a wish, only after you can identify and state three positive things about yourself and your day. Try extending my one day challenge into a 30 day challenge. For the next 30 days – write down at the end of each day what went well and what is right with me. I am certain you will be pleased with the outcome.

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A Memorable Two Weeks

I just spent two weeks on a remarkable journey filled with so many heart opening, mind altering experiences it will take weeks to fully integrate — it will, perhaps, be my winter project.

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The first week of my journey was with my two sisters. We flew into Jackson Hole, Wyoming to be together, explore Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Once together with luggage stowed in the rental car, we drove to Yellowstone, the first part of our time together. I had been to Yellowstone many years ago for a day. Then, I thought Yellowstone was beautiful with endless pools of colorful boiling mud or sulphur laden pools and geysers – of course, Old Faithful. This time I learned that Yellowstone is so much more. The mountains, lakes, valleys, and wildlife were truly awe-inspiring. And to share it with my sisters, a blessing. We made endless stops to soak in the views, photograph wildlife, and, one morning, to make way for a herd of bison using the road before us. When an entire herd of large animals is filling your path, headed in your direction, there is little choice but to stop in awe and allow them to pass. They passed silently with a destination in mind which included the road as easy access.

My sisters and I? We laughed, we talked, we shared our meals together and found a familiar rhythm which made for easy travel companions – I so very much loved being with both of them. We are not often all together as we live different lives in different parts of the country. We’ve lived apart many more years than our brief childhood together yet the familiarity is still a soothing groove re-awakened within minutes at the airport.

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I love seeing neuro-plasticity in action. Our familial grooves run deep and even though we are very different from one another, there is a common thread of those years shared in our youth. Decision making was easy — not like in our childhoods where we may have argued or forced our hand due to age. Aging has a way of smoothing and reprioritizing. On this trip we easily deferred each decision to whoever expressed the strongest desire. We had fun photographing sunrises, sunsets, wildlife, and each other. We enjoyed our meals in restaurants, our cabins, on the tailgate, or by the river. At Grand Teton we got to stretch our legs on some hiking trails since we all love to be outdoors in nature.

From there, I spent a quick day with my daughter and grandchildren before returning home to begin the second week of my adventure — an immersion week at Kripalu to complete a year long Positive Psychology course I’d been a Teaching Assistant for (to learn more about the certificate program, go to WBI.org). This journey was totally opposite to my previous week where nature and grand views prevailed. The connections and expansion took place, primarily, in one large room. The group of over 150 students, faculty, and our group of teaching assistants gathered together after months of virtual connection through video lectures, postings onto the course website, and many regular conference calls. Here we gathered from around the world to complete a year long journey by making connections, forming networks, sharing projects, and daily lectures — all in an environment of celebration for the learning, the growth, and the graduation before returning home to discover what’s next.

For myself, I forged new friendships, was in awe over projects, bonded with my fellow teaching assistants, and planned next steps to continue living and sharing Positive Psychology. I came away full with an open heart of gratitude for my own embodiment of meaningful and positive living as well as encouraged in the knowing that Positive Psychology is truly spreading — a happiness revolution, as Tal Ben Shahar calls it, is underway!