Every day clients teach me more and more about how humans think and behave. Yesterday, a lovely woman I see explained why it’s so hard for her to feel grateful and see the positives in life. She told me : I have a lot to be thankful for, but no matter what happens, it will never be as good as I had hoped. For me, the penny dropped as she said those words – How can anyone see the positives if their expectations are always greater than reality?
Clients have been telling me this for years and I have only now truly understood what they were saying.
Of course I love my baby, but motherhood is so much harder than I thought it would be.
I know I have my health and wonderful friends and family, but this is not where I wanted to be at this point in my life.
In other words, it’s very difficult for people to focus on the positives and cope with the negatives before they have accepted reality. Positive psychology examines the benefits of thinking positively and being grateful. But many people find it hard to think positively and be grateful. Perhaps we have been skipping a vital step. We first need to accept that life rarely turns out exactly the way we imagined it would. There will be challenges and there will be pain. No amount of love and hard work will completely protect you from disappointment or heartache.
Once we have accepted that life is a series of wins and losses, successes and failures, pleasure and pain, we can find it easier to celebrate the positives and cope with the negatives. If we go into parenthood or relationships knowing that it won’t be easy, we can enjoy the rewards. If we enter adulthood knowing that life will take us down a series of different paths, we can feel better prepared for challenges and more appreciative of the luck and achievement.
Accepting reality provides a neutral baseline from which we can move up and down depending on what happens to us. If our expectations are too high, the only way to go is down. And if they are too low, we look for the negatives to support our dark view of the world. So in the end, being realistic makes it far easier to be positive and grateful.