When I’m feeling sad. I simply remember my favorite things…and then I don’t feel so bad.” Cue the music, because thank you Rogers and Hammerstein there is wisdom here.
We all KNOW this wisdom. We’ve all experienced the magic that a turning of attention can bring. We’ve likely all had the experience of being caught in the rain, or in the traffic jam or the grittiness of relationships when one of our favorite things catch our attention and our heart. Perhaps we remember when something has reached out and grabbed us and PULLED our focus to the beautiful, the lovely and the loved, right there in the middle of the difficult. Maybe it was the dancing shimmer of sunlight through raindrops right in the middle of that unexpected rain shower. Or it could have been the glimpse of a cheeky smile from our toddler in the back seat as we sat right in the middle of that traffic jam. Or perhaps it was the gentle squeeze of our Love’s hand right in the middle of that same old tired discussion. In these moments, our focus shifts and our shoulders soften and the sting of life’s hard stuff is lessened.
The thing is, most of us depend on our favorite things catching us for this turning of attention. But what if we could practice this shifting of attention, more intentionally. What might that look like? It might look like noticing when we feel life’s rub and staying for a moment with thoughts and emotions and physical sensations that the hard stuff brings up. THEN choosing to turn our attention to finding one good thing or one beautiful thing or one lovely or loved thing, right there in the midst of the rub…on purpose. Practicing this flexibility of focus intentionally we build flexibility of mind. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the tough bits of life, or that we stuff down our thoughts and feelings about the hard stuff. But my goodness, anyone who has spent one minute noticing what’s going on between their own ears knows that we humans walk around with a serious negativity bias. (Neuroscientist and Psychologist Rick Hanson likes to say “The human brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.” Well yep, that’s been my experience. How about you?) What I am suggesting is that through intentional practice, we can build mental flexibility that will allow us to be more able to choose where we shine the light of our attention.
Another helpful practice is to begin to really notice and savor the small beautiful, lovely or loved things around us throughout our days, everyday. So with this practice, we are not waiting for the tough stuff to happen to practice shifting our attention, as we did above. We are harvesting our day for the honey and allowing ourselves to sink down in the middle of that gooey golden goodness, and savor it for a bit…gives new meaning to “Bit-O-Honey.” Which is a great metaphor of this practice, because anyone who’s eaten a “Bit-O-Honey” knows that eating one can’t be rushed; it takes a bit of time to enjoy it. With this practice we are setting the intention to tune in to notice what brings us pleasure and then take time to savor the pleasure…on purpose. There is some interesting evidence that the act of noticing and savoring (for 30 or so seconds) the good stuff that is drizzled throughout out our day, can restructure our brains in ways that can make us more happy, resilient and productive. Yes, please! Check out Rick Hanson’s blog here for more information on the practice of noticing and savoring the good stuff. It’s good stuff! 😉
Lastly, what if we were more intentional about becoming more aware of OUR favorite things? What if we had a better idea of what delighted us? What if we could name the things that make us smile, or move us to awe, or make us cry tender, happy tears? What if we were on the look out for these things, ever adding to our list? What if we could name a few of our favorite things more easily than we could name our dear friend’s mother’s opinion about…well, about anything. What if we kept a daily gratitude journal? What if we kept notes of our very favorite moment from each day in a jar to revisit at year’s end? What if we could build our list, like Rogers and Hammerstein? Or, what if we could become students of our own experience, like Joanna Fields, who set out in 1926 to find “what kinds of experiences (made her) happy” and ended up writing a book “A Life of One’s Own.” What would it be like to bend our ear down a bit more often to our very own heart to notice what makes it quicken?
As we finish up, I’d like for you to contemplate what would it look like for you to take one of these practices for a spin this week? 1. Practicing shifting your focus to one good (lovely or loved) thing, when you are captured by the difficult. 2. Being intentional about noticing and savoring the good throughout the day…harvesting and savoring that honey. (Read Rick’s blog here to learn more about this practice.) 3. Paying attention and becoming wiser students of our own experiences of joy…and once “favorite things” are discovered, drizzling our days liberally with them.
In the spirit of favorite things and knowing one’s heart, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite songs, which just happens to be a compilation of lovely and loved things by Tom T. Hall. Here’s
a link if you’d prefer to listen, rather than read.
Slow-movin’ trains and rain
I love little country streams, sleep without dreams
Sunday school in May and hay
And I love you, too
Birds of the world and squirrels
I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups
Bourbon in a glass and grass
And I love you, too
Tomatoes on the vine and onions
I love winners when they cry, losers when they try
Music when it’s good and life
And I love you, too.