“For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries, saw the high mountains, the oceans. The only things I did not see were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door.” – Rabindranath Tagore
Mindfulness allows us to open to the constantly unfolding present moment. When we are aware of the moment with an open, accepting, and nonjudgmental attitude, we are free to notice things that often go unnoticed. There is often a great deal to be grateful for and to experience as pleasant, if only we will allow our awareness to take it in. Many of us go through our daily lives caught up in the internal self-focused drama of where we have been and where we are going… all clouded by a poignant unawareness of what is happening all around us right now.
When you make the choice to begin to mindfully experience and express gratitude, you open yourself up to the possibility of significantly increasing your daily exposure to pleasant experiences. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) encourages individuals to learn to recognize and focus on positive experiences as a way of increasing positive emotions and learning to regulate emotions more effectively. When your attention is consistently captivated by negative emotions, it can be difficult to tolerate distress and welcome the present moment with openness and acceptance. In other words, an excessive focus on the negative often leads to a tendency to emotionally withdraw, shut down, become numb, or otherwise block out experiences.
This is unfortunate since there is so much in this moment – right now – for which to feel grateful. When you learn how to cultivate an attitude of mindfulness, you will begin to notice your awareness opening up to allow yourself to experience the richness of the present moment. Embedded within this moment is immense beauty and nuance that can be fully appreciated if only you will direct your mindful awareness to it. For some, there is a fear that opening oneself up to the present moment might increase suffering. If you allow yourself the gift of temporarily letting go of this fear and dipping a toe into the water of mindfulness, you might begin to experience a range of pleasant experiences that you had never noticed before.
You can actively identify positive experiences to engage in through noticing times in the past when you have experienced positive emotions. It is essential that these positive experiences are healthy (i.e., not self-destructive physically, mentally, or emotionally).
Increase Positive Emotions By…
- Going to a concert or sporting event
- Reading a great book
- Spending time with a good friend
- Taking a bubble bath
- Watching a funny movie
- Playing a game
- Listening to uplifting music
Mindfulness Exercise: Increase Pleasant Experiences
Marra (2004) suggests the following steps for increasing mindfulness of pleasant experiences:
(1) Choose a positive experience to engage in and make the choice to do it even if you are not in the mood.
(2) Be mindful of the experience in the moment. Focus your full awareness on the present moment. Notice the colors, textures, smells, and sounds associated with the pleasant experience. Allow yourself to absorb your experience fully.
(3) If you notice your attention drifting away – perhaps to thoughts of the past or future – gently refocus your attention to the present moment.
(4) Give yourself the gift of refraining from judging your emotional experience. Don’t try to compare it to the past or to what you “wish” it would be… simply allow it to be just the way that it is. Accept what is.
(5) Consistently bring yourself back to your environment and to what you are doing. Engage in your pleasant experience with your whole heart and mind. Give yourself fully to the present moment and embrace all that you are experiencing with an open heart.
(6) Choose not to be “serious”… rather, be attentive. It doesn’t need to be difficult or effortful, simply control your attention.
(7) Now, allow yourself to be impacted by your experience. The effect of your pleasant experience need not necessarily be dramatic or powerful, simply allow it to be whatever it truly is. Allow yourself to experience emotions based upon what you are currently doing. You don’t need to act on emotions just because you have them – just allow yourself to open up to your authentic emotional experience.
(8) Afterward, don’t judge your emotions. Simply notice them and describe them. Perhaps you felt bored and made the judgment that you “should” have been happy. If you allow yourself to truly notice your authentic boredom and accept it fully, this is being mindful.
How might your daily experience of pleasant events be impacted by a deliberately mindful attitude of openness, curiosity, and acceptance? Allow yourself to reflect on how you typically experience positive events. Do you have a tendency to throw yourself into them and experience them with openness or do you tend to hold back or feel numb? The point is not to make judgments about what you do, but simply to begin to notice your positive experiences in a new way. When you choose to become mindful and open yourself up to the present moment with greater awareness, you may experience a naturally resulting shift in the deepening of gratitude and experience of positive emotions.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Marra, T. (2004). Depressed & anxious: The dialectical behavior therapy workbook for overcoming depression and anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Jaspurr always takes the time to smell the flowers by Dawn / CC BY 2.0