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     We all know that a major portal to happiness is to appreciate the good things in our lives. Whether we are marveling at the unconditional love our dogs give us, the feeling of pulling the blankets up to our necks on a cold winter’s night or the joy of reconnecting to an old friend, our ability to bask in life’s pleasures magically improves the quality of our lives. 

     I recently enjoyed a lecture by Dr. Rick Hanson, who wrote the best-selling book, Hardwiring Happiness:  The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.  He discussed the evolutionary reasons we are programmed to focus on the negative rather than positive aspects of our lives.  He then challenged us to overcome this inherent bias by significantly increasing our focus on what is good about our lives.  I left Dr. Hanson's powerful lecture inspired to make total appreciation one of the cornerstones of my life. 

     I began this quest on my two hour ride home by being continually thankful for everything I was experiencing which included the beating of my heart, the music of Springsteen blasting from my car speakers and the fact that all I had to do to get my car to move forward was to press gently on the gas petal. I also created a mental list of the best things that have happened in my life and remembered each one in as much detail as I could muster. I wrapped up my trip by visualizing that I was sitting on the front porch of my beloved family cabin in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, gazing at the cedar stream meandering by and basking in the wonders of nature.

     I have continued to totally appreciate every good thing in my life and have relished the increased happiness and joy it has brought me. I have found many new things to be grateful for that I had previously not paid enough attention to such as the sounds of the peeping frogs in a nearby pond as the evening sets in, the fact that my body is healing a small cut on my finger without any effort on my part and the beauty of the sun shining down on the Buddha statue in my front yard.

     Ongoing appreciation does not negate the challenging or painful aspects of our l lives. However, it fills us with a sense of inner abundance that we can use to overcome the hurdles we face and lessons the sting of loss, disappointment and even trauma. In fact, our level of happiness at any given moment is largely determined by our ability to focus on the positive rather than negative aspects of our lives.

     If you want to prove to yourself how much control you have over your happiness, spend a few minutes thinking about everything that is wrong with your life. Very likely, you will begin to feel a bit down. Now, switch your focus to what you are grateful for and your mood will immediately brighten. I sometimes do this in ten second intervals, watching my mood bounce up and down like a yo-yo.

     I often ask my depressed clients to list five things that they appreciate. I enjoy seeing their spirits lighten as they ponder what they are grateful for and consequently develop a more positive perspective on their lives. I also encourage my clients to bathe themselves in gratitude in between our sessions like it is water cascading down over them from a waterfall.

     Whenever I encounter people who appear to be very happy, I ask them what their secret is. They generally cite their appreciation for the fact that they woke up that morning and/or note that they have a lot to be thankful for which increases the quality of their lives. I wish everyone was able to be this grateful - the world would certainly be a happier place!

     Many people are unable to be thankful for what they have because they mistakenly believe that they need something else in their lives to be happy such as finding the right partner, losing weight or making more money. However, happiness is not an elusive goal to be reached at some future point, but a wonderful gift we can give ourselves at any moment through our ongoing gratitude.

     Over the course of my life, I have experimented with many different strategies to experience greater well-being and peace of mind. Although they have all been helpful, my new focus on total appreciation has enabled me to soar to new heights. I wish the same for you - the view is terrific from up here!

Nate Terrell, LCSW is the author of Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace. He invites you to check our his website at www.achievingselfcompassion.com.

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When I tell people I have written a book on achieving self-compassion, they often ask, “Isn’t it selfish to be self-compassionate?” I always respond that there is nothing selfish about being our own best friend, knowing we are inherently worthy, choosing happiness or enjoying the present moment, which are the cornerstones of self-compassion.

In contrast to self-compassion which is simply about treating ourselves well, selfishness is about being self-centered and meeting our needs at the expense of others. Selfish people put themselves first and are driven by self-preservation rather than fairness. Consequently, they feel a sense of entitlement which leads them to promote their interests even this causes others to suffer. In fact, most of the problems in this world are caused by the destructive behavior of selfish people who lack the empathy they need to be caring and sensitive human beings.

Self-compassion is vastly different from selfishness because it fills us with happiness and peace of mind that we can pass onto others. Highly self-compassionate people live their lives with fulfillment rather than scarcity and therefore have no need to be self-centered or selfish in their quest to get their needs met. They know that they do not need to choose between being compassionate to themselves or others. They can do both at the same time and enjoy the rewards that both have to offer.

For much of my life, I also believed that it was selfish to focus on meeting my own needs and that the main purpose of life was to help others. Not surprisingly, I became a social worker which has brought great meaning into my life and enabled me to be a guide to others as they overcome the challenges they face. I routinely put my needs aside as I ministered to others which often led me to feel depleted or even burned out.

My conviction that I was responsible for happiness of others was challenged by my son, Darqui, who my wife and I adopted when he was nine. As a result of the trauma he experienced before he joined our family, Darqui often sank into dark and angry moods where he seemed beyond our reach. When this occurred, I would hover around him, trying desperately to help him overcome his inner demons and find the happiness he deserved.

During a particularly difficult time in our relationship four years ago, he informed me that he hated me trying to make him happy, that he had the right to feel however he wanted and that there was nothing I could do about it. He also told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to leave him alone and worry about my own life.

Although hurt by this rebuff, I began to realize that it was grandiose for me to believe that I could make Darqui - or anyone else for that matter - happy. I gave Darqui the space he demanded and reinvested the energy that I had using trying to rescue him from himself to better meet my own needs. I spent more time in the woods by myself, began meditating on a regular basis and most importantly, listened more to my own inner voice that knew what was best for me at any given moment.

After not speaking to me for a couple of months, Darqui finally wandered into my home office one day and began to talk. I asked him how I had done leaving him alone and he congratulated me on my efforts. Although I am devoted to doing everything within my domain to help Darqui, I have never again taken on the responsibility for his happiness which has helped our relationship immeasurably. Although we are very close, he never fails to remind me when I need to back off and let him be.

I have continued to take better care of myself and treat myself with the same self-compassion I have always tried to extend to others. Rather than make me more selfish, I have more positive energy to serve others and help them become their best selves.  As a result, I feel even better about myself which has created a cycle of increasing abundance in my life that I treasure.

I hope you are also able to recognize that there is nothing selfish about taking great care of yourself. Rather than take my word for it, prove it to yourself by experimenting with the strategies I discuss in the book that Darqui inspired me to write entitled, Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace. I have no doubt that you will become more rather than less caring and giving to others as a result.  I look forward to reading about your experiences with self-compassion on my "achieving self-compassion" facebook page or in the forum section of my website, www.achievingselfcompassion.com.

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