When was the last time you felt really good, happy and content?
Many of us experience periods of emotional distress. The three tools of gratitude, acceptance and self-compassion can help us bring more peace and joy into our lives.
According to research, being grateful increases our happiness. Begin your day expressing appreciation to G-d for at least one blessing in your life. To enhance your feelings of gratitude, pick an upbeat Jewish song and choose something for which to be grateful. (Even if your life is in shambles, you still have access to the deepest joy: That G-d, the Creator of the entire universe, wants to have a relationship with you.) Then dance and/or sing to G-d, expressing your joy and appreciation. This is one of the quickest ways to improve your mood. Try it at least once. If you find it beneficial, do it each morning.
(The music of Shlomo Carlebach is one great choice, among many. Even just listening to his music can uplift your mood. You can listen to full-length tracks at http://www.sojournrecords.com/artist/shlomo_carlebach. Some fast paced songs available on this webpage are: Oseh Shalom, Tov L’hodot, Harachaman Hu Y’zakeinu, Yamin Usmol, Hashem Melech, Tshuatam, Siman Tov and Am M’kadshai.)
Each day, make a conscious decision to focus on and be grateful for what goes right, the blessings inherent in every day. Savor the little and not so little pleasures, enjoying them mindfully. Express appreciation for the help others give you. Search for the good in you. Appreciate and be thankful for your positive qualities and talents; compliment yourself on your achievements. In addition, look for and praise the good you see in others.
Part of gratitude is realizing that the gifts G-d gives us are not exclusively for our own use; He expects us to share a portion with others. Research shows that giving to others enhances our happiness much more than any fleeting pleasure we may feel when splurging on ourselves.
Helping others reminds us that there are those who are less fortunate and to be grateful for what we have. Look for ways to share your time, talents and resources; volunteer or adopt a cause or charity. Each day, see how you can be of service to others.
Gratitude works well when we focus on positive aspects of our lives. What about the painful ones? For those we need acceptance. Acceptance means trusting that G-d is guiding our lives and doing what is best for us, even though we do not understand how. We do not resign ourselves to a situation; rather, we make peace with the way things are, even as we work toward a better tomorrow.
G-d wants us to do what we can to improve our lives, while at the same time accepting each challenge as His will and for our eternal benefit. With acceptance, we are optimistic that once we have gained what we need, we will be able to move past a challenge.
Comparing our lives to others undermines acceptance. We may think, “Why can’t my life be like theirs? Why can’t I have a wonderful spouse, great kids, good health and earn a comfortable living?” To counter this, say to yourself, “G-d gives each person what they need to fulfill their unique purpose. If they have those blessings, then they need them. If I don’t have them, then right now, I don’t need them.” Afterward, turn your attention to what you do have; use your talents, gifts and blessings to find meaning and fulfill your life’s purpose.
Acceptance is not all or nothing. One benchmark for gauging our level of acceptance is noting the level of tension we feel when we think about a difficult issue. The more we are able to accept a situation, the more relaxed and calm we will be when thinking about it.
Another benchmark for how we are doing in accepting G-d’s will is whether we are able to accept ourselves. G-d created us with unique imperfections and by overcoming them we best fulfill our life’s purpose. When people harshly criticize themselves over their deficiencies, they have not yet accepted the will of their Creator. They have not yet internalized the belief that G-d is infinitely wise and created every aspect of their lives for their highest good.
Sometimes we think, “I like this part of myself but not that part.” We only think this way because of our limited understanding of what is beneficial to us. If we shared G-d’s perspective, we would love every aspect of ourselves, just as our Father in Heaven does. We would realize how each part coalesces to enable us to best fulfill our life’s mission.
When you feel distressing emotions, focus on unconditional acceptance: Accept others, your life circumstance and every part of yourself, even the way you feel. After all, what do you gain by resisting or rejecting aspects of your life? If that’s the way things are, that’s the way they’re supposed to be – at least for the time being. When possible, focus on improving a situation, but first accept it. Then, you will act from a place of peace and power.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of self-compassion, being kind to oneself, with books and websites devoted to the topic. Self-compassion flows naturally from self-acceptance; once we accept ourselves the way we are, we can be kind and loving to ourselves.
The next time you are about to berate yourself over a perceived flaw or failure, instead, bring to mind your many struggles and feel tenderness and compassion for yourself. Talk to yourself, in the second person, soothing words of support and encouragement. Show yourself the same kindness, warmth and care you would show a close family member or friend who is going through a tough time. When you need to give yourself constructive criticism, do so lovingly and respectfully, after all, you are speaking to one of G-d’s children.
In addition to extending compassion to yourself, tap into the compassion G-d gives you. He is constantly supporting you (Song of Songs 2:6), “His left hand is under my head and His right arm embraces me.” G-d tells you (Isaiah 66:13), “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you…” Pray to Him to send you comfort and strength. Then imagine waves of these feelings washing over you.
When you feel emotional distress, breathe in and think, “G-d is with me in my pain.” As you breathe out think, “He is soothing and comforting me.”
After feeling Divine compassion, see if you can feel a sense of oneness with G-d. As Moshe Rabbeinu taught us (Deuteronomy 4:35), “…There is nothing beside Him.” In this state, there is no separate self receiving compassion from G-d. Instead, there is only compassion; there is only G-d.
The next time you feel emotional distress, try these three tools: First find something for which to be grateful, whether a blessing in another area of your life, or a bright side of the painful situation. Then, talk to yourself words of faith, and see if you can be more accepting of the challenge. Lastly, remind yourself that you are going through a difficult time; give yourself compassion and feel G-d’s compassion for you.
This article has been abridged. For the full version, which includes three additional tools, click here.
Yaakov Weiland has an MSW from Fordham School of Social Service and lives in New York City. He has been published in The Jewish Press, Arutz-7 and Aish.com. To read his other articles, please visit www.yaakovweiland.blogspot.com.