One piece of happiness wisdom that I initially rejected as impossibly Pollyanna-ish is that to make unpleasant activities seem pleasant, re-frame them—that is, change the way you think about them.
I thought this sounded ridiculous. How could I change something unpleasant into something pleasant, just by re-framing it? My attitude, after all, reflected the reality of the situation. But I looked for examples where I could decide that instead of not liking to do something, I did like to do it.
The crazy thing is that this approach works. Instead of saying to myself, “I hate it when…” or “I wish I didn’t have to…” I think, “I love it when…” or “I’m glad I get the chance to…” and my attitude changes dramatically.
For example, I’d considered it a pain to take the Little Girl along in her stroller to walk the Big Girl to school. It makes the walk take longer, it’s tough in bad weather, I need to worry about getting them both dressed, etc.
But then I realized—what a joy it is to walk to school with my two girls! I’d feel bereft if for some reason the Little Girl didn’t come with us each day. Soon the stroller era will be over forever, and I’ll remember with a pang all the mornings we three traveled to school together.
A tougher case to re-frame was the completion of the dreaded health forms for school and camp. This kind of multi-step task drains me: making the doctor’s appointments, filling out the same information over and over, keeping track of the various sheets, trying to meet the deadline.
But now I’m embracing the process: “How happy I am to complete these forms!” Re-framing became much easier after I heard that the annual school check-up had revealed a very serious health problem in a friend’s child, so instead of grousing at being set a pointless and annoying task, I remind myself that these check-ups are really something to be happy about. If the doctor discovers nothing but perfect health, be grateful; if the doctor discovers something, be even more grateful.
Re-framing is NOT about making myself enjoy something that I don’t really enjoy (one of my commandments, after all, is Be Gretchen), but rather, it’s about realizing that “with a sour face” I’d cheated myself out of an enjoyment I already possess.
“With sour faces we let a thousand bright and pleasant hours slip by unenjoyed and afterwards vainly sigh for their return when times are trying and depressing….we should cherish every present moment that is bearable, even the most ordinary, which with such indifference we now let slip by, and even with impatience push on.” —Schopenhauer