Try to Honour the Ordinary

If the title didn’t give you a hint this post is about being grateful. Gratitude is often neglected as one of the more important virtues possibly because it is a calm, non-active emotion, lacking some of the intensity and drama of more passionate emotions. Many of us may perceive being grateful as something that is expected of us, particularly if someone has done something for us. Saying thank you is a social prerequisite in many cultures and an expectation from others to express gratitude so as not to be labelled an ingrate.

What I am thinking of is not gratitude for an individual event but as an overall attitude towards life. It has been said that emotion flows where focus goes. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for everything in our lives can create a mindset that is looking for the positive in every situation. A close friend of mine plays the fortunately/unfortunately game with her primary school aged children. The focus is on the fortunately aspect, so the children learn to reframe negatives into positives. It is a fun game and often used as an icebreaker for groups or as an improv for drama clubs. When you break it down life is a series of fortunately/unfortunately. So, if you can find a “fortunately” in almost every situation you are practising gratitude and ultimately cultivating a more emotionally positive life.

Lets face it, with the exception of a small percentage of people most of us live fairly average, dare I say, ordinary lives. So, what does it mean to honour the ordinary? To honour something is to regard it with great respect and esteem. Try and appreciate all those small things that we may take for granted. To see the sun rise or a babies smile, to hear the sound of birds or the laughter of children, to have food to eat or clean water to drink. To be able to walk and talk and share time with friends and family. They seem like such basic things but for many they are not. I remember seeing a meme on social media that said “right now someone is praying for the things you already have “

So why not try and honour the ordinary things in life, try it for a week or a month and see how it can change the way you feel. Emotion flows where focus goes.

Wishing you all the best in your journey

Phil Miranda

Source: Solomon, R.C. (2004). Foreword, In R. A. Emmons & M.E. McCullough (Eds.), Psychology of Gratitude, (pp. v-x)

You don’t have to be an expert to help

I remember back in the 1980’s if you were having mental health issues your GP would refer you to a psychiatrist. Treatment was highly structured and based on the biomedical model of disease. Essentially mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety were based on the idea that there was a chemical imbalance in the brain. Drugs were prescribed and followed up with an hour of expensive, usually Freudian based therapy. They were and are still very highly trained and skilled in treating mental illness. There was often however, a very defining relationship between the psychiatrist and patient, the highly trained expert and the unwell patient. Trained professionals are a crucial part of recovery from mental health conditions, however the perceived power imbalance has always seemed problematic to me.

The idea that only a mental health expert can be effective is changing as the mental health industry is recognising the role of lived experience in assisting people with mental health issues. I believe there is nothing more powerful than the understanding that comes from another human being who has travelled the path and come out at the other end relatively unscathed. I remember nearly 30 years ago sitting in an A.A meeting and the secretary opened the meeting by saying “, tonight we will show you living proof that there is life after alcohol “. One of the speakers that night spoke of how they felt accepted and understood, something they had previously searched for at the bottom of a bottle. That environment of acceptance and empathy combined with the power of example had a profound effect on me.

Carl Rogers with his humanistic and client centred approach to psychology recognised the power of acceptance and empathy over 50 years ago. He acknowledged that imperfect human beings can help other imperfect human beings. That being listened to and understood with unconditional positive regard is the foundation by which people can become fully functioning individuals. Some people appear to be have an innate ability for empathy and unconditional positive regard and others gain those skills through training and practice. Both types make a valuable contribution to enhancing the mental wellbeing of others. The one thing mainstream mental health professionals cannot do however is share lived experience which I feel is one of the most powerful tools for recovery.

One of the most isolating things about mental illness is feeling that no one else knows what you are going through. The person with lived experience does as they have walked the walk and can often connect in a way that many highly trained professionals cannot. Peer support workers have become a powerful tool in the mental health industry and they are becoming more sought after than ever as a valuable addition to existing treatment. They use their lived experience as well as some formal training to help people through the maze of recovery. Essentially saying, I have been there, and I know a way out. Your way out may be a little different to mine, but I know it is in this direction.

So, if you have a lived experience of anything that affects mental health, be that depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, substance abuse etc and you found your way out then you have something to offer the person who is suffering. Talk to your neighbour who has lost their job and is feeling hopeless and lost. Have a chat with your work mate who is going through a relationship breakup. Listen, connect and if appropriate share your story of how you too battled those demons and came out the other side. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I believe it takes a society to combat mental illness. We can all contribute. You don’t have to be an expert to help.

Wishing you all the best in your journey

Phil Miranda