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Reframe your thoughts. Change your Experience.

With Thanksgiving this week I often think of gratitude, not only in practice but the concept. I love Thanksgiving for that reason. No commercialization, just the spirit of spending quality time with friends and family I love and focusing on giving thanks for the gifts in my life. It sounds cliché, but I really do love it. But here’s the thing….I hesitate to write about gratitude in and of itself because I do feel that it can sometimes be a word that gets batted around a bit too easily without a lot of genuine practice behind it. I don’t want it to become cliché.

This morning I read a section in The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids that got my wheels turning. Consistently since 1971, Denmark has been rated the #1 happiest country in the world. So what is it about Denmark that produces such happy people? The authors of this book surmise it begins with rearing happy children (logical step, I know!) and so they look at parenting behaviors. One behavior the Danes exhibit is Reframing.

The way I think of reframing is it takes the lenses we look through in our every-day existence (we develop these “lenses” from years of upbringing a certain way by our parents/caregivers, culture, experience, etc. so that we don’t even realize this is our default ) and puts another hue on the lenses. Rosier lenses? Perhaps. But it’s also not pollyanna-ing situations. It simply looks for a way to recognize aspects of a situation for the good that does inherently exist. Let me give you a few examples:

On the last weekend of a vacation someone may say, “Geez, the vacation is almost over.” You may reframe it to say, “We have had so much fun and there are still 2 days left!”

When you don’t want to go to work, you first may grumble and say, “Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to go.” A way to reframe may be to say, “I am really fortunate I have work right now and earning the money I do helps me pay for things I need and want to pay for.”

If the weather is cold and rainy outside, someone may say “What lousy weather!” Reframing thoughts may be, “I’m sure glad I’m warm and dry inside!” or “This is perfect weather to cozy up on a couch.”

Do you see the difference? Both perspectives may be true, but one clearly focuses on the negative. The other --when we reframe-- focuses on the good in any situation. It doesn’t mean you naively look the other way and put a fake smile on your face. But it does shift focus to what is positive wherever you are. If we look, there’s almost always something positive we can find. The authors of this book suggest that reframing does take practice. But when practiced regularly it becomes easier and in doing so it builds resilience, a factor contributing to overall happiness.

If gratitude is one side of a coin (think labeling the things in your life you’re thankful to have, e.g. your good health, food on the table), then I think of reframing as the other side of the coin. It is a practice that shifts our thinking into what is positive in the moment and good around us while knowing we could focus on the not-so-pleasant if we wanted to. Reframing our situation is a choice.

“Where thoughts go, energy flows” is a saying I really like. Another way to put it is that our thoughts influence our emotional state, our energy, our mood. A daily gratitude practice is certainly one way to elevate our emotional state. (Read about the effects of a gratitude practice here.) This Thanksgiving season I offer another practice to try on and see how it shifts your mood: Reframe your thoughts. It just may make you feel happier.

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