What I would give for my two-year-old's unfettered ability to choose happiness!
I always thought of myself as a very positive, optimistic person. It was a real shock when I got up close and personal with myself and realised how prone I actually was to very negative thought patterns.
Although thoughts and feelings aren't the same thing, I firmly believe how you think affects how you feel. I also think we all have tried-and-tested thought patterns that our minds automatically sink into if we are feeling afraid or hurt or in some way exposed.
I have two tried-and-tested avenues that my thoughts wander down when I am feeling something I"d really not feel - usually fear or hurt.
The first is the classic 'I feel fat'. I wrote a bit about my body image here and about some great reading I have stumbled upon recently. One of the most revelatory things I read was 'fat is not a feeling'.
Just think about that for a moment and consider its power. Fat is not a feeling. It explains so much - why one day we can feel perfectly happy and comfortable within our own skin and the next. suddenly convinced we are fat and unacceptable and need to go on a diet.
When I tell myself 'I feel fat!' what I mean is 'I feel upset, afraid or some other unpleasant emotion outside of my control, but I'd rather not address that so instead I'm going to address something I feel I can control - my body'.
And my second mental cul-de-sac is 'I'm overwhelmed'. I ruminate furiously about the injustice of my situation, at home with two energetic and demanding children with very little time to myself, and I think about how unfair it all is.
When actually, being at home with my daughters is my choice. Other options - working full-time, working part-time, childcare - are freely available to me. Full-time motherhood is just one of a fairly wide range of choices.
I really love this post from Katie about motherhood and choosing where to put your focus. I love how she expresses so well something that often doesn't come so naturally to me - that on any given day you can choose to focus on the things that you did well, and the joy that your children brought you, or you can choose to think about all the things you did wrong and how you're not good enough.
Ultimately what we make of the experience of motherhood - of life in general - is up to us. I focus on the negative with the best of intentions - I want to be a better mother every day, and one way to do that is of course to think about all the things you did wrong and how you can stop them from happening again.
But there's another way, and that's to think about all the things you did well, and focus on paying attention to those instead. Because what you pay attention to, becomes what you experience.
The really great thing about thoughts - positive and negative - is that we don't have to believe them. We don't even have to listen to them.
I can watch my thoughts begin to crowd in, and I can choose not to pay attention to them. After all, isn't this what I do with a lot of positive thoughts?!
But this is only a pattern of habit and choice, and it can be changed. I really loved this post here from Polly on affirmations and choosing more positive thought processes.
We can always choose a different thought. We can always choose happiness. It's so simple, even my two-year-old can do it.