For the past few months I have been going downtown Chicago to be a part of a women’s leadership seminar. 15 women, whom I have never met, from all walks of life and business backgrounds sharing their life experiences and wisdoms. One thing we were asked to do is take an online test at viacharacter.org (try it, it is really cool!). At the end of the 120 questions that you answered, you got a print out with your “character strengths profile”. My top character strength was listed as gratitude, my least was love of learning (I’m not a details girl!).
I really thought about the first one. Gratitude. It is something that is available to all of us and doesn’t cost a cent. I’m not exactly sure when this became the guiding force in my life, but I am thankful that I picked up this trait along the way. I, like most people, have been through my share of losses and rough patches. During those times I really focused on accepting the fact that this was going to be a “down” season of my life. I worked on knowing that it would not last forever and not trying to fight it and make it “all ok” immediately.
I also tried not to let those rough times define who I was on a day to day basis stealing all of my happiness and joy away. I would literally set aside specific times to focus on the issues I had to face and tackle them. Feel them and experience them for future closure. At other times, I would put the issues on the back burner and really enjoy the people around me and parts of my life that were going well. I would actually visualize that my problems were in one of those big exercise balls and I would mentally sit on it. This way, I was on top of my problems not letting them be on top of me.
This may seem like an over simplification, but I believe we truly choose our thoughts. We choose what we focus on and how much space we let those thoughts have in our mind. The more we let positive, uplifting, empowering thoughts fill our minds, the more we live life with those emotions at the forefront. When negative thoughts, that do not serve us well, come to mind, mentally put up a stop sign. Tell them to go back to where they came from. They just aren’t welcome anymore.
It takes time and it takes practice to slowly train your mind to see things in this way, but it is worth it. Life is full of ups and downs and unfortunately there are no guarantees of a perfectly smooth ride. I believe our overall happiness and well being is in our control as we manage our reactions to the times that life shoots out lemons at us. Finding ways to choose gratitude will always get you going in the right direction and help solidify a life of joy.
Dr. Cathy Subber
**This post was originally written for the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Blog a few years ago, but it is still very true today.**