Ten Ways to Keep a Positive Perspective

Everybody goes through rough patches, times when they feel very alone or perhaps misunderstood by the world. Rough patches can sneak up on you. Things are going along just fine, and then one by one the little things add up and all of a sudden life feels intolerable, a trap set by surroundings or circumstances beyond your control. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? How do you find your way back to a positive perspective when you have forgotten how?

Depression runs in my family and I am well-acquainted with the its defeating weight, with how desperate you feel when you’ve forgotten how to hope. But I have found ways to recognize early on when I have begun to sink, and ways to help me keep a positive perspective, even when things look bleak. Here are ten that work for me (most of the time!):

1) Recognize that what you are feeling is a feeling and not a way of life. Someone once told me that saying “I am depressed” is not ever true. You are not depressed or sad or despondent or rejected or misunderstood. You may feel those things, but they do not define who you are.

2) Recognize that all feelings come and go, and this one will, too, if you let it. Try to remember a time when you felt hopeful and positive about your life and relive it in your mind. It may feel false to do this, but it is a gentle reminder to your soul that you will feel this way again.

3) Breathe. Right now, this second, you are fine. You have all you need and probably most of what you want. Relax and breathe again, and every time that those feelings of desperation rise up within you. Those few seconds of pause throughout the day can keep everything in perspective until hope returns.

4) Feel gratitude. List five or ten things or people or circumstances for which you are grateful. Keep a notebook by your bed and do this every night before you sleep. No other habit has been so effective as this for helping me to remember how truly fortunate I am.

5) Envision where you want to be, how you want things to change or grow. Spend a couple of minutes in meditation every day envisioning in as much detail as you can how you’d like to feel and what you’d like to be different. Everything starts with an idea.

6) Do something, anything, to move you closer to where you want to be. There is something about taking action, however small, that reminds us that we are in fact the active agents of our own lives. Life isn’t happening to us if instead we are making our lives happen.

7) Get a little more rest. So often a down mood really just stems from being overtired. Treat your self to a nap.

8) Be nice to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a friend who was feeling down. You wouldn’t berate a friend and tell him or her to get their act together, and you wouldn’t tell them they were hopeless and they might as well give up. Talk to yourself as you would a good friend and see how well you feel.

9) Take care of yourself. Get some exercise and eat healthy foods. Just like rest, these habits improve your well-being both inside and out.

10) Spend some time in nature. Few things can calm the spirit so well as a walk in the woods or on a beach.

When things aren’t going your way, sometimes the only thing you can do is keep it all in perspective and know that this, too, shall pass.

The Value of Friendship in Middle Age

Over the holidays, I host an ornament exchange, to which about twenty to thirty friends come. We always have a great time, and many of them tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (the basis of our friendship years ago) are grown and gone now. With our busy schedules, many of us only see each other at this annual event.

Sadly, we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be. If solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, though, it can have an adverse effect on our health and overall quality of life.

Adult friendship is typically forged through work or school and sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make social connections. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill a social calendar, but also to maintain the physical and mental health needed to thrive in middle age. We are, after all, social beings, and one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is to cultivate our social lives.

One way to do this is to build on the wonderful way in which all of us become much more ourselves in middle age. By this time, pretense has fallen away. All of us have won and lost at life. We’ve questioned our decisions, and made small or radical changes as the years have gone by. We realize the value of companionship, of being seen and appreciated by someone we too see and appreciate. Without anything to prove, we can just enjoy each other. The pressure to impress is over.

Lately, I am conversely more protective of my alone time and more open to social outings with those I don’t know so well. The paradox provides a certain balance while making life more interesting, and I’ve found a few new friends along the way. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “The sun of real happiness shines in your life when you start to cherish others.” Friends, old and new, really do make life pretty sweet.