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Moments of Joy

28 January 2020 - Dr Jan Orman

4/1/20 - seeing the whole trajectory of a fish rising from the surface of the water, flying through the air and landing with a plop and a flurry of concentric waves

5/1/20 – getting a birthday message from my son that says “don’t do anything differently just because you’re 65”

6/1/20 – opening a gift of patterns for knitting teddy bears

This year I’ve decided to practice what I preach. I’m starting with something that has evolved from last year’s eye-opening experience with keeping a gratitude diary when, along with other members of my team at work, I participated in the 6-week Mental Fitness Challenge on the BiteBack website. BiteBack is a positive psychology-based website for adolescents from Black Dog Institute. Gratitude is the theme of the first week of the 6 weeks challenge, so for me the best learning experience came early.

Challenging Negativity

I’ve always known I was a champion when it came to negative thinking. I can see where my depressed and anxious patients are going way before they get there themselves. I need to positively reframe my own experience constantly to maintain my equilibrium and when I am off kilter, I have a lot of trouble seeing any positivity in anything. You may not have noticed my negativity. Like many others in the same position, I’ve got positive reframing down to a fine art.

What I didn’t realise, until I had to keep a gratitude diary, was how closed my eyes are to the good things that happen around me on a day-to-day basis. My negative perceptual bias means that I don’t see much of the good stuff and at the end of any day its hard to remember anything good that has happened.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.

The difference that keeping a gratitude diary made for me was that I had to actually notice the positive things and keep them in my mind so I could write them down at the end of the day. It really changed the way I looked at the world on a moment to moment basis. It was like going on a treasure hunt every day – one eye always looking out for the treasure as I went about my usual business.

Does it have to be “gratitude”?

I haven’t maintained the gratitude diary practice and I’m sorry about that. I have recommended it to a lot of people though, and for a time I gave them notebooks I’d learnt to make in a bookbinding course to help them get underway. Reactions range from “this is a great idea” to “this notebook is too nice to write in”! Some people benefit from and continue the practice, some do not engage at all and others, like me, see the value in it but can’t or don’t keep up the formal practice.

One of the objections I have heard is to the word “gratitude”. For some people the term seems to speak of indebtedness and obligation that take the shine off it.

I’ve found another way.

My new notebook

This year I’m keeping a notebook I have called “365 Moments of Joy”. I’m asking myself to write down a single moment of joy every day. Just a moment I can go back to and remember the little tingle of positive emotion that came with it, the moment that would be lost if I didn’t write it down.

Of course, the system has gone awry already. Some days I have missed writing something down and been unable to think of anything to fill the gap. But on other days there has been more than one thing to write down. I might make it to 365 moments after all!

Whether I make it to the magic 365 or not  I will have spent many more of my days seeking out the golden-wrapped treasure of positive moments, remembering them and storing them away for future use.

This year’s moments of joy might just come in handy one day soon.

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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