Gretchen’s last month of resolutions, November, focused on her attitude instead of actions. (I know what you’re thinking–what about December? Shouldn’t THAT be her last month of resolutions? Spoiler alert: she attempts to follow ALL of them in December!)
Gretchen recognized that she struggled with having a ‘contented heart,’ and I admit that I have trouble with contentment as well. While sometimes not being content can be beneficial (think self-improvement or seeking opportunities for change), overall discontentment can be draining to oneself and others.
In order to achieve a more lighthearted and cheery attitude, Gretchen resolved to: laugh more, be more polite and to find an ‘area of refuge’ (i.e. mental thoughts that bring lightness). Gretchen’s Third Commandment: “Act the way I want to feel,” took center stage this month as she tried to react more positively.
I’ve been accused of being too serious more than once, so this chapter resonated with me. Gretchen’s story of bringing her daughter to tears after not laughing at one of her childish jokes tugged at my own heartstrings. She lists the benefits of laughter (improved health, decreased stress, increased social bonding), including being able to laugh at yourself. One of the quotes she references frequently throughout the book is G.K. Chesterton’s “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” That one speaks to me, as my ‘default setting’ is on the hard side. I’m overly critical of myself and others, have high standards and find it hard to (truly) relax and harder to be goofy. Perhaps I should try to laugh more, too.
Interestingly, Gretchen’s next two to-do items, ‘use good manners’ and ‘give good reviews,’ did not resonate with me as much, or at least not with the same intensity. While Gretchen admits to struggling with being thoughtless and critical toward others, and even contradictory at times, I actually tend to be more thoughtful toward others. I’m the one letting someone with fewer items in their cart go ahead of me at the co-op, I check to see if someone more deserving of a chair needs one before I take it, I hold doors open and beg forgiveness if I bump into someone. Now, could I be more thoughtful in other ways? Yes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a good listener, and like Gretchen, I can sometimes try to “top” someone else’s story with one of mine.
Gretchen found that her contradictory (she refers to it as ‘belligerent’) attitude was often brought on by drinking, and while that’s not something I struggle with (neither the belligerence nor the drinking),she reminded readers of the importance of being physically comfortable. It’s something she mentioned earlier in the book, and is very logical once understood. Basically, Gretchen realized she often gets cold, hungry and tired, and that it’s harder for her to be kind when she is in those states. So, she makes an effort to dress warmly, bring snacks and go to bed early to make it even easier to use good manners. Eureka!
She attempted to thwart her overly critical attitude again by ‘giving positive reviews.’ I found it interesting that research shows that people who are critical are often perceived to be more competent, discerning or smarter. I suppose that makes sense, but it’s no excuse for being critical on purpose. Realizing that while she did enjoy making critical remarks, she was better served by attempting sincere enthusiasm. Additionally, she attempted to go a week without making ANY negative comments, and while she admits to never making it through even a day, she did take away a true gem: “I could usually make my point, even if it was critical, in a positive way.”
I really like that observation, and feel like I’ve been attempting that in my own life in recent months, related to something I observed in Andrew. My husband, bless him, must think I have the thickest skin around. (And trust me when I say that it’s actually a GOOD thing; to him, being strong enough to take criticism is a sign of strength.) He often makes ‘observations’ that have a decidedly negative tone, and while I know he doesn’t mean them the way they sound, I often cringe at how an outsider might hear them. I’m not sure if it’s pregnancy (thinking ahead to how a child’s view of one parent can be shaped by interactions with the other parent) or simply that as I get older I stand up for myself more, but I’ve begun pointing out Andrew’s negative comments and asking him to recognize that he’s stating an opinion as fact in a not-so-kind way. In that same vein, I’ve been making efforts to be more patient and use positive language when I’m being critical as well.
Lastly, Gretchen realized that due to ‘negativity bias’ (the fact that we tend to dwell more on bad things than good), it would be helpful for her to have a mental ‘area of refuge’ to go to when she found herself brooding. She remembered a funny memory of her husband dancing in his boxers, a great example of a distracting thought that would lead to laughter. Another person might think about their children, or their ‘happy place.’ Just now, I realize I’ve done this in some ways when I’ve either struggled to fall asleep or to distract myself from worry. My ‘area of refuge’ has changed over the years; I remember dreaming of the dog we would get before we had Hadrian, or thinking of an exciting project I was about to undertake, like our landscaping. Gretchen’s laughter-inducing memory makes me want to designate a specific one of my own as an area of refuge.