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.

The extraordinarily ordinary moments in-between mental illness exist – I promise

But it does get better. 

Some parts of our lives are really hard, really dark, and when we look back it’s kind of like reflecting on what a long winter felt like when you’d go months without being able to remember what it felt like to feel your toes and fingers because it was so cold, and the sunsets were never there and the sun didn’t make you feel warm and everything was dry and icy-

But it does get better. 

And you won’t see it coming: you won’t notice it happening, the thawing – you won’t notice every day how you’re starting to hum to yourself again or how laughter is coming more easily than it did before or how you’ve started noticing sunsets and feeling sunshine again. 

You’ll just be sitting on your couch at 11 am on a Wednesday listening to traffic and lawn mowers and the neighbours music drinking coffee that’s too expensive but almost worth it with a book you didn’t realized how grateful you were to be reading until right this moment and –

it will be better.

casey-horner-394182-unsplashAnd you’ll suddenly realize that for the longest time you’ve forgotten what it felt like to not be ok, and that you’re excited to do… anything, really. The prospect of doing your dishes or getting started on that assignment or phoning up your parents to say hi or catching up with people you saw only yesterday is actually not a horrible idea, in fact you’re content and grateful for all of it. 

Suddenly your life will dawn on you at a completely ordinary moment, and it will bring with it the realization that you’re not exhausted by the thought of being alive, and that – that is so far from ordinary for so many of us. 

I’m not sure what it feels like to really say it’s normal for me to want to be alive, or to not be completely crippled by the daunting task of quite literally being conscious and getting out of bed and making myself a bowl of cereal, let alone all the other often exhausting activities required to be functional. Feeling kind of like being alive is a cool thing to do, all the time, is not normal for me. 

But it does get better. 

There will always be winters for me – a day, a week, sometimes many more – where I’m tired and my soul is uninterested in the world and it’s both exhausting to be a functional human AND convince myself I actually want to do that at the same time. Those seasons are always lurking, and I can never know when they’re coming or how long they’ll last when they do. 

But that’s ok, because I know that there will be many more ‘ordinary’ Wednesday mornings in my apartment when life will feel like it’s a good color on me and I can’t wait to wear it out into the world. 

Mental illness isn’t a teenager in a 5 bedroom house in ‘Riverdale’ who’s parents fight sometimes and failed a class and it rains all the time. Mental illness is war inside of us, and it’s disingenuous to romanticize it, because it’s ugly, painful, even horrific, impossible to understand from the outside, and even when it’s not happening, there’s always the feeling that it could happen again at any moment. 

joanna-kosinska-140783-unsplashBut it’s good to know from my lived experience, and that of many others, that there will also be peace sometimes, and it will be worth itit is worth it. In an understatement of the century, being depressed sucks, a lot.

But the Ordinary Days where your mind is feeling good about itself are pretty fucking amazing. 

I used to feel sad and angry that I was brought to tears with gratefulness for days that seemed so commonplace for everyone around me, because I felt like I deserved to feel like that all the time and it wasn’t ok that I responded to Normal Moments so dramatically. 

But, that doesn’t help me. Its pretty rough comparing yourself to mentally healthy people,  so, just don’t do that, it doesn’t serve you, and can bring you nothing but more unnecessary anger and pain. Making peace with our lot in life is an ongoing process for me, and I would be lying if I said the whole “accepting what you can’t change will bring you happiness” thing doesn’t REALLY piss me off, because accepting a generalized anxiety disorder and bunch of other really horrible stuff that got shipped in with my dysfunctional brain is actually not going to bring me happiness, but thank you Tumblr, it’s a nice sentiment. 

emily-goodhart-527188-unsplash
I don’t have answers for how to work around that, because it’s something we battle all the time. But, I just wanted to let you know that, despite all of that, your Ordinary Days exist – now, or in the future – and they will be just as real as the wintery difficulties you’re living through now or have in the past. 

Peace exists, and just because you haven’t had your Oh-My-Gosh-I’m-Happy-To-Be-Alive-What-Is-This-Feeling! moment on a Wednesday morning yet, doesn’t mean it’s not coming. 

You’re still kicking, so don’t stop now – because someday you won’t have to kick anything to enjoy your day, I promise. 

– Steph (Hunting Happiness)

Hide and Seek and the Pursuit of Happiness

Besides mental wellness, what else are we pursuing on our recovery journey?

I believe one of the main and obvious answers is…

happiness.

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves. ~Henry David Thoreau

Hide-and-seek is an old and popular children’s game in which one player closes his or her eyes for a brief period of time while the other players hide. The seeker then opens his eyes and tries to find the hiders. There are more rules but you get the idea.

Hide and Seek would not work or be any fun if the following were true:

  1. You hid, but there were no seekers.
  2. No one hid, so the seeker had no one or nothing to find.
  3. You did not know what or who you were seeking.
  4. You did not know where to look, so you would look endlessly and find nothing.

The pursuit of happiness or “Happiness Pursuit” is similar to the game of Hide and Seek in the following ways:

  1. Happiness must be missing, hidden or lost for you to find it.
  2. You must want to seek it first before you will find it or achieve it.
  3.  You must understand what happiness is before you can realize you found it.
  4. You must know where to look and how to obtain it before you can find happiness.

The difference between Hide and Seek and the pursuit of happiness is that happiness is not hidden. Happiness has always been right under your nose, as happiness lies within YOU lying dormant, waiting patiently for you to find it. Happiness didn’t purposely hide like the hiders in the game Hide and Seek, but still happiness is hidden from many people. So, even though it was never truly hidden we are often seeking happiness or searching for more happiness.

Until you stop thinking that happiness is somewhere else,

it will never be where you are.

If you look at happiness and success as a destination, you may never reach it. Try not to look at happiness and success as a destination. Instead try to make where you are presently as enjoyable as possible. Love the moment you are in right now and let where you are planted and resting right now determine your success. Of course we always want to improve ourselves, but don’t let the improvement become the deciding factor towards your happiness. Instead let the journey and the process of growth and evolving become the beauty and joy of your life.

Sure, there are many times we have to convince ourselves that better times are ahead just to make it through the day. But the key to being happy and mentally well is to find happiness and peace with the life you have and to achieve the goals that are important to YOU. Do not achieve goals for others for that will never make you truly happy.

You must learn to be happy and content with what you have before you can be truly happy within. You must learn to live and appreciate the beauty of the moment you are in. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Because people are preoccupied with the belief that happiness will be their future, they miss out on their present happiness. They miss out on enjoying where they are right now and do not try to find happiness in their today.

Happiness is NEVER about things or appearances. Who cares how you look to others. Don’t try to impress others. You ONLY need to impress yourself about who you are. Be you. Do you. You are the one living your life and you are not living it for anyone else but you (and God). You need to do what makes you happy and what you think you need. Your life is no one else’s but your own. Make it yours. Be you.

Many people think things like, “We just redid our five bedroom house, but I just need one more thing. Just one more thing. It will always be one more thing if you are living for things. I don’t feel happy. I must be missing one thing.  I don’t have a warmer oven. If I get a warmer oven then I will have everything and I will be happy.” What the heck is a warmer oven?

It seems the more you have the more you want.

Some people think, “If I get this, then I will be happy.” For example,”I am homeless. If I just had house, I would be happy. Now I have a house to live in, but now I want a better one, a bigger one. I need to own my house. Now we own our home and I need a better, bigger and brighter house. It will never end until you know what you are looking for, until you know what will make you happy, and until you know who you are.”

If you are not happy with yourself, NO-THING can make you happy.

People always think they would be happy, if only… Other people have things and they seem happy. I think that is all I need. If you don’t have things you think when you get things you will be happy. When you get things, you think you just need more things. The more you get, the more you think you need. It is never-ending.

You cannot be happy until you are happy with yourself. Happiness comes from within. Obviously, the solution to most problems lies within yourself. You must know what will make you happy first, and before that you must know what happiness is. What is true happiness? What is happiness for you? What will make you happy?

The answer to happiness is Jesus.

If you have not experienced the joy Jesus brings then you haven’t met Him or don’t know Him yet, not fully, not completely. Surrender yourself completely into the loving arms of Jesus and you will know happiness. Jesus will lead you there.

You do not need to play Hide and Seek or the pursuit of happiness game. Jesus is what you are pursuing and Jesus is not hiding. You do not need to seek Jesus for He has already found you. Open your arms to Jesus, surrender completely to Him and let Jesus into your heart forever.

When you find Jesus, you will know it and you will know you FOUND HAPPINESS.

Hide and Seek…

and you shall be found.

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