The Opposite of Brooding |

3 min read

Dogs. Coconut pies. My partner. I lay in bed, focusing on my breath, imagining the good things. Naming one by one. My mind wandered repeatedly to all the worries. And noticed the thoughts and refocused. I’ve spent too much of my life caught up in all the unhappiness in life. I was ready to re-engage with the positives.

Brooding comes naturally to most of us, unfortunately. We are wired with a negativity bias. We notice and remember the bad things much easier than the good ones. This can show up as worrying, ruminating about our past mistakes, or thinking over all the ways we’ve been wronged. These mental events bring up more negative emotions creating what is called in compassion-focused therapy as “loops” (Gilbert, 2010). Loops of the mind can get in the way of our enjoying life. Further, they can feed depression, anxiety, and anger.

It’s difficult to break these habits, and often the harder we try, the more frustrated we become with ourselves.

There is an alternative. We can build a competing practice.

Appreciation is something we all do sometimes. Maybe when examining a multi-color leaf, or having a meaningful conversation with a loved one, you’ve felt gratitude in the moment. Yet, compared to ruminative brooding, most of us have much less experience with appreciation. Just like we build physical muscle through exercise, some meditations can build our capacities for appreciation.

Allowing ourselves to experience the good things, both imagined and in the moment, does not make the less pleasant ones go away. It simply opens us to a less biased picture letting us participate in all the good things that come our way.

3 Ways You Can Build This Strength Through Mindfulness

1. List the Kind Things People Have Done for You

Most of us find it easy to name ways others have harmed us. What about the opposite? The joyful things. These are more easily forgotten. Take a moment and, either out loud or in writing, try to list the kindness others have shown you. This might include things like when a friend sent you an encouraging text or appreciation for how a teacher made high school math more enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be anything major, or too precise. You can set a timer, maybe five minutes, for the practice. Really try to savor each event that comes to mind just like you might mull over a grievance—but the opposite.

2. Remember the Good Things

I did in my night ritual of listing random “good” things, and you can do the same. Some write these as a gratitude list. I’ve found it most helpful to imagine them in my mind, name them, and replay them in my head. You can define good things however you wish—good things that have happened for you or to someone else, things you’ve enjoyed in life, people. The possibilities are endless.

3. Share With Others

Writing a “thank you” card or letter sometimes feels obligatory. It doesn’t have to be. If you remember a time someone brightened your day, you can send them a quick thanks. You can bring it up in conversation with them or someone else. Their smile is likely to make you smile, too.

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