Finding Cherries in a World That Seems Like the Pits: Part 1
As we all know, life has its "good" & its "bad" (or not so good). So how do we sort out the good from the bad? Here are some things I have found work:
Something that’s really striking my consciousness lately is the question of how to sort the good from the bad. This has been presented to me in several different ways lately. As a stress-management coach people come to me for advice on these things, so of course it’s sort of natural that these types of questions would cross my path. But what has really been striking me lately is the number of different ways this same theme has come up. Here are some examples:
~ “What do I do about this friend who is always negative? I really like her, but I just don’t want to spend much time with her.”
~ The holidays are so stressful, I just can’t seem to find the joy in them anymore. I used to like to decorate and shop. Now it’s all a hassle and there’s never enough time to get it all done. How do I learn to enjoy the holidays again?”
~ There is so much horrible stuff going on in the news. I want to stay aware of current events, but I just don’t feel like I can pay attention to the news anymore. How do I remain informed without getting depressed?”
While these questions are all different in that they are talking about very differing phenomena, they are all very similar in their overall context: separating the good from the bad. This really is an age-old question. I’ve heard it brought up in religious and spiritual contexts. I heard it brought up in my graduate political science seminars. I’ve heard it brought up in conversations with friends. And truthfully, in my opinion, there is no one “best practices” answer that can apply to all of the contexts. However, I do believe there are some strategies that can be tried on for size, or experimented with, which can help a person figure out what works best for them.
For Part 1 of this 3 part series, lets talk about:
THOSE TAXING FRIENDS
Most of us have at least one friend who is lovely in many ways, but who is also a Debbie or Douglas Downer. This is the person who always seems to have a proverbial fly in her chardonnay. He sees the glass as half-empty instead of half-full. Of course, this friend is not “all negative” or we wouldn’t be friends with the person. We just wish they would look on the bright side of things more often. So what do we do? Here are some strategies to try:
~ Lead by example. When things are negative in your own life, set an example by finding the silver lining or breathing through it with inner peace. What you don’t want to do is point out to your friend that you are doing this. Let her just watch you. Don’t give him “helpful” advice about how you are proceeding so well through your difficult time.
~ Set time limits. Let’s just be honest here, no one can be around Negative Ned or Nellie for that long. The problem is that if we set too many time limits the person is going to feel like they are being blown-off. Then you’ll have the problem on your hands that your friend will probably confront you on this. For some, being in a negative space – e.g. negative confrontation – is comfortable, so she will have no problem bringing this up to you. So the time limited friends need to be treated with special consideration. Make sure the time you do spend with them is high-quality time. That way your friend won’t feel slighted about the lack of time because he will feel so good about the time you do spend together. Conversely, instead of spending focused one-on-one time with this friend, spread the work around. Try only spending time with her in groups. This then lightens the negativity burden on any one person. If you make sure she’s invited to a lot of things, she won’t feel like she hardly ever gets to see you. Unless this is already your pattern though, don’t shirk spending at least some one-on-one time with her. She’ll figure out what’s going on if she’s used to seeing you alone, but then suddenly only sees you in groups. Also, make sure he still feels good about being with you even if you are in a group. Make sure you pay some special attention to him and treat him like he’s important.
~ Have a mindful conversation with your friend. While this might be the most intimidating of the suggestions, it’s also most likely to be the most fruitful. Mindful conversations proceed with empathy and compassion. Try asking your friend if there is an underlying cause for her outward negativity. If there is, maybe you can help. Or, maybe you can support her in finding the help she needs. Make sure he knows that you are asking because you care and you want to be supportive. Remember, mindful conversations do not criticize in words or tone. Try to use “I” statements. The more empathy you can have the more likely you are to have a fruitful conversation.