I once read that all human beings are very much alike: we all have our struggles and we all wish to be happy. Sometimes people identify certain events as having the power to create particular emotional states, such as joy, sadness, or anger. However, we also have an internal capacity to increase our ability to have and sustain positive states of being. To aid us in the quest, I have developed a model I call The Four A’s.
The first A we’ll visit is Awareness. I often think that many of us, particularly because of hectic lifestyles of our times, move around in a state of automatic pilot instead of being aware of our surroundings, moods, and thoughts. Why bother you might ask? Because, without awareness, we don’t know what is working for us and what needs to change; we don’t know how we impact others or if our relationships are fulfilling; we don’t know what is lingering from our past that perhaps needs a closer look, since it impacts us today. A beginning approach to increase awareness is to take a few minutes every day, sit comfortably and focus first on your breathing. Notice how you naturally breathe in and out with very little effort on your part. Then extend your awareness to your body, scanning each part starting with your toes and continuing to your legs, stomach, etc. noticing how each part of your body feels. Then move on to what you notice around you, sounds, smells and so on. Now you are inviting in the first A, Awareness.
Next, we move on to Attitude. How do you want to present yourself in the world? How do you wish to relate to those near and dear to you? Sure we all have our times when we need to be alone, but for the most part, the attitude we take toward our day and those in it can be one of the greatest gifts we have to offer. I remember when I was first introduced to Victor Frankl’s concept of Logotherapy, which he formed based on his experiences in a concentration camp. There, almost all of the typical choices people have were taken away. What helped him was realizing that no one could control his response to his situation and his choice to keep hope alive. Nowadays, this same concept is written about in many forms but always with the same message: even when it feels like our world is falling apart, we can still choose how we react and what support we will seek. Pause and tune in to your thoughts at this moment. Are they leading you closer to the way that you wish to be or are they taking you down a path that only reinforces negativity? Many practices, such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga and using positive thinking, are aids in creating the internal state of mind that helps us with our second A, Attitude.
The third A is Aliveness and I believe our greatest help in this area is our feeling life. I often say feelings just are, our choice comes in how we want to relate to them. Frequently, what brings people into psychotherapy is a desire to rid themselves of negative feelings. I see these as opportunities to get to know ourselves better and to produce self growth. I notice that after someone in my office has chosen to fully feel their sense of loss, anger, or sadness over a situation and be supported to express those feelings, they can experience a sense of relief, and I believe, more aliveness. Dealing with our negative feelings can open the door to welcoming our more positive ones. Take a moment to remember a time of great joy, a time when you experienced an expanded sense of well being. Try to bring back just what that felt like, where you noticed it in your body, and how it increased your aliveness. Focus on that feeling and see if you can let it continue to grow and move throughout your body. As you go throughout your day, continue to take moments to savor that time and feeling and notice its effect on you. Allow yourself to open to this third A, Aliveness.
The fourth A is Awakening. Are you fully awake during your life? Do you see yourself as having a purpose? Can you relate to yourself in terms of knowing how to feel, think and are physically? Do you know what matters to you and do you find ways to include it in your life? Take a moment to make a list of 10 things that you love and then go back and look at when you last experienced them. Reflect on how you could bring at least one of them into your life today or increase its presence. As we acknowledge what we desire, need, value and hope for and look for ways to include these in our lives and plan accordingly, we include our fourth A, Awakening.
I hope that you can incorporate this model into your everyday life using the brief activities suggested. In these uncertain times, it can be helpful to know that both the good and the bad can be used to help us continue to live and grow as we have struggles and look to increase our joy and happiness.
Jane Gilroy-Hunsecker, is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor who worked at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.