7 Ways I Changed from Hunting the Good Stuff

I spent some time in the Arizona Army National Guard. They had started a program called Master Resiliency Training (MRT). Arizona had one of the highest suicide rates among soldiers. They sanctioned this program to help soldiers “overcome adversity.” The Psychology Department of the University of Philadelphia created the program. After a few years I had forgotten a lot of the training. One thing stuck with me though I never practiced it. It was called “Hunt the Good Stuff.” A simple exercise of writing down three good things that happened to you that day before bed. And writing why those things were important to you.

I remember a Major telling everyone about when he first heard about this exercise. He thought it was stupid. His instructor told him to try it. What did he have to lose? The training went for three days. He noticed by the second night of “Hunting the Good Stuff” he was sleeping better. This Major also had two young daughters whom he didn’t know how to connect with. One night at dinner, he asked his family to tell each other three good things that happened to them that day. His family started doing this every night. His daughters start talking about their good things before anyone else. He was able to learn about and connect with his children with this exercise.

Over the last couple years, my life has had many ups and downs. After so many things chipping away at my resolve, I grew more depressed and negative. I got so negative that someone close to me told me they didn’t want to be around me anymore. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt I had hit rock bottom. My job offered six free counseling sessions and I took them. I started a “Hunt the Good Stuff” journal. I still have a long way to go but I’m 1000% better than I was. That was five months ago. This one exercise has done more for me than I ever imagined. I wish I had started doing it sooner.

1. When I Look for Good Things, I Find Them

When I first started this exercise, it felt daunting. I wasn’t sure if I could find three things to write in this journal every day. I had to think for a few minutes. The more often I did this, the easier it got. I used to get angry and sad because my mind autopiloted into negative thoughts. When I sat down and thought about the good things, I always found good things. Perspective and attitude do play a role in one’s mindset. Reflecting on something good, no matter how small, every day has helped to change my way of thinking.

2. Others Noticed a Change in Me

It took several weeks before someone said anything. My sister mentioned noticing a huge change in me. A better change. My coworkers noticed too. One of them wanted to take photos for a work Instagram. I joined in and enjoyed being in the photos. I overheard someone say they had never seen me smile so much. Coworkers were happy to see me when I went to work. They were excited to work with me that day. Positive thinking has led me to enjoy the people I work with even if I don’t enjoy the job itself. 

3. I Gained More Self-Confidence

I talked with a coworker about some of the things I had been doing since I felt my life had fallen apart. I mentioned my counseling and “Hunting the Good Stuff.” I thought she would say that she noticed I was happier. But what she said surprised me. She noticed that I was more confident in myself. I never would have guessed that would be a result from positive thinking. It makes sense. Being positive had made me act sillier and have fun without the concern of what others might think. I can’t remember the last time I was like that.

4. My Attitude Changed; I’m More Positive

As expected, positive thinking has led me to see the world in a positive way. I don’t always assume the worst from people. I rationalize things differently. When someone says they forgot about plans we made because they didn’t put it in their calendar, I understand. I’ve done that too. Before I would assume, I wasn’t important to them and that’s why they forgot. Sometimes people get busy and it has nothing to do with me. I don’t make plans as often now, but I don’t get upset if things don’t go to plan.

5. I Changed How I Talk to Myself

One of the things I started along with “Hunting the Good Stuff” was a positive affirmation. The person I was close to who didn’t want me in their life anymore gave this to me. I repeat the phrases, “I like myself. I love myself. I deserve good things.” I once repeated these words over and over for about 20 minutes. This helped but writing three good things every day helped too. My internal monologue has changed. I don’t call myself stupid when I make a mistake. I don’t say negative things to myself as often. It’s still there now and then, but less frequent.

6. I Sleep Better

It doesn’t work every night. Some nights I’m still restless or only sleep a few hours. But overall my sleep has improved. I have dreams more often. Fewer nightmares. I sleep longer and deeper. I don’t always feel energized, but I don’t feel drained upon waking up anymore. I give myself a couple hours in the morning before work. I allow myself time to ease into the day. This has added to my daily productivity and attitude when going to work. Most of the time, I can go to sleep at the time I want to start sleeping.

7. I Enjoy Things Again

I used to have a general crabby disposition. Even when I used to enjoy something, I didn’t show much enthusiasm. I find myself feeling good after doing things. I go to movies alone and reflect on having a good time with myself. If I go to a party, I socialize for a bit and enjoy some food. I walk in with no expectations and walk out having had a great time. I get more reading and writing done because I enjoy doing it more. 

I’m surprised how much this one activity helped change my perspective on life. I still have hard days where I have to force myself to find good things. The last few weeks I’ve moved from at least three good things every day to four good things every day. More and more days are having five to seven good things. As of writing this, I’ve been practicing this exercise for over 150 days. That’s five months. I may never get back the people I lost when I was negative and depressed. But I will do everything I can to not make the same mistakes twice.

The good stuff is always out there. You just have to look for it. Happy hunting!

James Pack is a self-published author of poetry and fiction.  Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com.  He resides in Tucson, AZ.

10 Things That Help My Mental Health

More often than not, I struggle most days. I’m sure I pass for a normal adult. But sometimes I’m having a panic attack. Or every little noise makes me irritable. Every day has some amount of stress. The days I struggle with the normal stress are extra difficult. There are a few things I use as coping mechanisms to get me through most days. Sometimes I never leave my apartment and focus on a few of these things. I don’t think I could get by without this list. These are the things I need the most and sometimes don’t get enough.

1. Caffeine (Coffee/Tea)

It’s not uncommon for me to have several cups of coffee throughout the day. I’m trying to cut back by drinking tea in the evenings. As long as I get caffeine, I’m satisfied. Caffeine is a pain reliever. This is why I drink so much. If I’m not drinking coffee, I’m pills for pain relief. The pain is muscle aches. Hypertension. Even when I’m relaxed, I don’t feel relaxed. Caffeine doesn’t make the pain go away, but I don’t notice it as much. I also use the cup or mug as a barrier. I feel safer with that barrier between me and the world.

2. Quiet/Silence

Finding a quiet place is difficult sometimes. Noises don’t always bother me. On bad days, nowhere is quiet enough. Not even my home. Libraries are great if seats are open. Sometimes I must have my back to a wall to feel safe. Sometimes the ambience of a coffee shop is soothing. On the worst days, listening to other people talk is so irritating I can’t be in public. I struggle with friends who feel if I’m not talking that means I’m angry. Usually I need to warm myself up to interact with others. That usually takes a couple hours and a couple coffees.

3. Writing

Writing is one of my passions. I couldn’t survive without the written word. I can convey my thoughts and emotions in written form better than verbally. It’s my way to vent. I get all my emotions out. It prevents me from bottling up everything. It has also helped me work through many of my mental health issues. Sometimes comments from others going through similar situations is enough to help me stay positive. Sometimes writing fiction is a great way to escape. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I couldn’t write down my thoughts and feelings.

4. Human Interaction

When I say human interaction, I mean spending time with loved ones. My support system. I haven’t always had a support system. I never knew how much being close to others could affect my life. I get upset if I don’t talk to this small group of people every day. Their interaction, or lack of interaction, with me can determine if I have a good or bad day. Sometimes we may not speak or text. But we share pictures or memes and it reminds me they’re thinking of me. That thought alone is enough to pull me away from the darkness of depression.

5. Reading

Many people read to escape. They want to imagine a life different from their own. This is part of why I enjoy reading. It’s helps my mental health because it clears my head. If I’m reading, I’m not overthinking something or stewing in negativity. I can focus my mind on the story, and this alleviates my anxiety. This is especially useful if I read before going to work. It’s relaxing and helps prepare me for any potential stress. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a book with me everywhere. I could go several days without reading but I always have a book with me in case I need it.

6. Walking

Any kind of exercising can help one’s mental health but not everyone is built to spend hours at the gym. I lose interest in anything over a half hour. When I was in better shape, I could do 45 minutes. Walking, however, is something I can do all day every day. I stopped using my car so I could walk more, and I enjoy every minute of it. Recreationally, I can walk for an hour listening to music from my smartphone. I walk to work or to coffee shops or wherever. It’s exercise and I enjoy it.

7. Staying Busy

When I start running out of things to do, I feel depression spinning its ugly head in my direction. Keeping myself busy with work or projects, even games, helps me focus. When I’m focused on a task or project, I’m not having negative thoughts. I’m less concerned about what may or may not happen. Just like prioritizing tasks, I prioritize my thoughts. Worrying won’t get the job done. I stay busy so I don’t have time to worry. But I don’t get so busy that I feel overwhelmed. I keep a balance between projects and fun. Sometimes my projects are fun.

8. Hugs

This is a difficult thing for me. Hugs are important for everyone. It helps one’s mental health overall. My problem? I don’t like other people touching me. I’ve worked on this over several years. Strangers should definitely never touch me. Acquaintances I’ll give a pass now and then, but I don’t go out of my way for hugs. The handful of people closest to me are the ones I accept hugs from without question. It’s taken me a long time to develop this. Even to allow myself to accept it from close friends. Overall, I don’t get many hugs. But when I do, it changes my world.

9. Photography

I’ve always had an interest in taking pictures. I recently acquired a new camera and I love it. I want to take pictures every day. I don’t know if it’s the task itself, or the act of creating something that makes my soul happy. I’m a creative person. I enjoy creating things. That may be all it is. Or maybe there’s something about photography that brings me more joy than other things. Regardless, it will always be a fun hobby and I recommend it to anyone looking for a creative outlet.

10. Sustainable Income

This is something no one thinks about until they don’t have it. I was unemployed for half of 2018. My mental health hit an all-time low during this time. Most people don’t think about how much financial stability affects their outlook on life. It was eye opening for me. It’s easier to find the good in the world when I happy to have food on the table and a roof over my head. No one can appreciate the small things in life until they no longer have the small things. Having enough money to survive with a little extra is enough. I don’t need all the money in the world. I only need enough.

All these things work for me and I recommend them to anyone looking for something that will help. I will caution that what works for me will not always work for someone else. Still, none of these things will hurt anyone if they try them. It costs nothing to try something you might enjoy.