Noticing the positives
Updated: May 10
Much of the time with Mindfulness, we focus on exactly what our experience is in the present moment, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, and explore all the different physical sensations, thoughts and feelings that are occurring. However, as humans, we are often drawn towards the negative experience automatically, and we simply do not notice anything else. So at the same time as acknowledging our unpleasant experiences, we can also consciously focus the light of our awareness onto things that give us joy.
G.L.A.D. is a useful acronym that can help us tune into aspects of our lives that are already present, so that we have a more balanced view. We are not inventing anything, but looking around with a different intention. It is an easy practice and one I like to do last thing at night, or if I am feeling stuck in a gloomy mood. If the latter, the GLAD practice only seems to work if I truly acknowledge, lean into and accept the difficult experiences first. If I try to use GLAD as a sticking plaster, it can easily be as if I am trying to resist the unpleasant aspect of the moment, and just makes things seem worse.
So what does GLAD stand for?
G – what am I grateful for today or in this moment?
L – what did I learn today?
A – what did I accomplish?
D – what has delighted me?
This can be anything, however small. Sometimes if I cannot think of much, I resort to basics such as being grateful for having drinking water that comes out of our taps, or that I have a warm home to sleep in. It can also be gratitude for something in your life such as an engaging job, a caring relationship or an aspect of your health. I might give myself a challenge of finding at least ten things that I am grateful for. Not what I should be grateful for, but what I actually am thankful to have. Also, knowing that at the end of the day I will be focusing on the positives seems to help me look out for them throughout the day, which is a cheerier way to be than looking out for the negatives.
This could be a whole range of things – maybe learning a specific fact or understanding something new, or finding out something about yourself or someone else. Maybe I noticed a new habit that I had not been aware of, or discovered an insight into my behaviour. It seems to be uplifting to realise that I know more today than I did yesterday. It also helps cultivate an attitude of curiosity and interest in life and other people, which generally makes the every day seem more engaging.
Sometimes I find this one the hardest to find, especially if ‘negative’ thoughts have been floating about. By accomplishment, we do not mean anything major. One is not going to pass a driving test every day. An accomplishment could be that you cut the grass, or cooked a tasty meal, or achieved something at work, or perhaps you made a small step in a bigger project. Or simply that you remembered to take a few breaths when you noticed you were stressed.
Did anything make you smile today, or feel joy, just for a moment? This can take some thought if you are not feeling particularly happy. It might require some focused attention, sifting through your experience with a fine tooth-comb, looking for anything that brightened your mood. If you know during the day that later you will be asking “What delighted me today?”, you might be more attentive to the uplifting moments as they occur. Like with gratitude, learning and accomplishment, having your antennae out for these experiences seems to make them show up more. Things that delight can be as simple and brief as the sun coming out, a colourful flower or a joke that made you laugh.
I do not always spend the same amount of time on each of the four sections. Maybe I will list many things I am grateful for, and then have just a few things for the other parts. And it is fine to include the same things you have listed before when you do the practice – I will always be grateful that I live surrounded by trees! Once I was particularly busy and had feelings of overwhelm with how much I needed to do; when I considered what I was grateful for and had learned, I heard a bored voice in my head say, “Yeah, yeah, OK, OK.” It was only when I considered all I had actually accomplished that day, that my spirits lifted: “Goodness, what a lot I have got done". And I felt more compassion for myself, understanding why I was somewhat exhausted!
In the past, before I actually knew about the GLAD meditation, I wrote in a little book every night for a while, answering the question, “What lifted my spirits today?” Although it did not include the range of experiences that GLAD covers, the act of writing led me to absorb the positive moments a little deeper than otherwise. I did this when my sons were very young and I am pleased now to have a record of so many delightful and enchanting moments that I would otherwise have forgotten. It was also helpful at the end of each day to bring to mind the delights, balancing the more challenging experiences that come with having toddlers, and going to sleep with such thoughts and memories in my mind. It has been said that our minds are like Velcro with negative experiences (ie, they stick to us), but like Teflon with the positive ones (ie, they fall off us quickly).
So I invite us all to remember GLAD – one of the mindfulness ‘practices in a pocket’ – to be used at any time of day or night.