I’m thinking about what I have learned over a lifetime about managing my feelings. Here I am, a very
happy, deeply joyful and fulfilled 67 years old and I’m thinking about how I got here. Why am I happy and content?
Happiness is Within Reach
Well, I have learned that happiness is an internal job, that managing my feelings is possible, and that meaningful aging can happen. It has so much to do with how we THINK about life and what happens to us. Cognitive
behavioral therapists say the way we think creates our feelings. Now at my good age I couldn’t agree more. How I think about being 67 years old andaging matters!
Somehow I learned this at a very young age, about 7 or 8. I remember being in the garden with my family picking up potatoes from a long row father had plowed up. We were gathering them for winter storage. I was in some kind of funky mood about this little job I was doing with my entire family. My mother looked at me and said something like, “You can feel better if you think about eating some good mashed potatoes this winter. Maybe we can have some of your friends over.”
I so clearly remember how my mood changed at 7 or 8 years old when I started thinking about my friend, Katie, maybe coming over in the winter and our families sitting around the long table enjoying mom’s hot mashed
potatoes with brown butter on top. They were the BEST!
Out in the long row of potatoes, I stood up, looked around and thought about Katie coming for dinner. Then I bent down and went to work diligently and happily, engaging my siblings in a game about who could get the most potatoes in our buckets without missing any that may be lying just a little deeper or off to the side a bit.
Practice Changing the Way You Think
When I learned about cognitive-behavioral therapy this scene came back to me. I suspect it came marching up through the years to cement the truths of this concept into my being. I poked around with personal application of changing my thinking on a variety of issues then noticing what happened to my feelings. It was nothing short of amazing. I could make myself feel a certain way if I did this honestly.
My internal dialogue would go something like this. “OK, so I’m feeling really anxious about this paper that is due in 3 days (Masters level). So, what am I thinking. I’m thinking I’m not sure I have what it takes to get it done. So now let me change that thought to something more helpful and see what happens. Let me try something like, you have a good head on your shoulders. You know how to study and do research and you can organize your time even though you don’t always do it.”
Bing! My feeling started to move toward confidence and competence, and that moved me toward the
action of organizing my time. I took to cognitive behavioral therapy like a duck to water. I knew how to do this! My mother had taught it to me without knowing anything about Masters level psychology classes! Thank you mom!
Feelings are Friends With Messages
I learned that feelings are not just plopped on me. I create them to a large degree by how I think. I also learned they are fleeting. They come and they go, especially after a good night of rest. They really can’t MAKE me do anything. They just hang around for a while and are not much of a basis for making decisions, especially important ones. I can enjoy them, instruct them, and manage them. They are in my control, at my direction, and they will serve me well if I pay attention to them and “parent” them well. Feelings are just feeling. Only that. They do not command me.
How I think is what really became important to me, in part, because I learned the ongoing internal dialogue we all have with ourselves shapes our entire way of being in our world, of how we see and experience ourselves, other people, and life events.
As these concepts took root in my everyday life, (it takes a long time for healthy thinking to become natural and normal for us), I honestly believe now, my brain chemistry began changing along with faithful and diligent practice of healthier ways of thinking. Now today, many years down the road, I am reaping the benefits of this earlier work I did.
Today, how I think and feel doesn’t have much semblance to my earlier years when I lived almost entirely in my feelings. The time when my feelings dominated and confused me. Now I can name them when they appear. Anger, disappointment, grief, sadness, anxiety, worry, fear, and the list goes on. I can listen to their message by asking, “Why are you here, what has been violated, what boundaries have I ignored, etc?”, thank them, and then let them go. We cannot ignore them. Their messages are important but they are not in control. I am. Feelings are gifts to us, friends. They are part of what it means for us to be human. These concepts simply undergird the process supportively and can help us reframe and integrate those experiences into the whole of our lives.
AND NOW, FOR THE REST OF THE STORY
I am so very grateful to have learned these concepts earlier in my life. They are much of why I think I am a very happy, deeply joyful, incredibly inquisitive, creative, and richly spiritual 67 year old today. These concepts also form the basis of how I see aging…. And you will get to read all about that in another article down the road somewhere!
Remember, it is never to late to start!! It will affect all our tomorrows!
Joy to all of you on the journey!
Please leave me any comments below and I will respond as soon as I can.