Through the process of evolution man became hardwired for negative emotions, like fear and anger. These afflictive emotions rose to dominance in our life due to their survival benefit.
Fear is protective. When we are fearful we are vigilant of danger. The cave man walking down the path, large club in hand, scanning his surroundings for predators, survived. The happy go lucky dreamer lost in the beauty of the sky became a saber-toothed tiger’s desert.
Anger is survival. Anger mobilizes the fight response. Through anger we overcome adversity of all kinds.
Each morning I awake. If I lie in bed and let my mind drift, it naturally moves to all my problems. What will go wrong? How can I possibly meet the obligations I have undertaken? What about all the people and situations who have targeted me for pain?
Most mornings I feel fine. I take my medical health for granted; I take no joy in my good health. But give me a sniffle, an ache or a pain and I become totally absorbed by the irrevocable catastrophe that is my body.
When I do marital therapy I often notice that 95% of the marital relationship is smooth and good. The negative 5%, however, is what preoccupies a couple. Like the black holes in the universe that 5% absorbs the psychic energy of the relationship, and turns it to dark.
Left to its own, the mind will always create misery.
Perhaps it seems unfair, but because of our bio-psychology, we must work to cultivate positive feelings. Afflictive emotions are a reflex; positive emotions a discipline. Such positive feelings are lower in the psychological /adaptive hierarchy than the reflexive feelings of fear and anger.
The positive emotions of love, compassion and joy have to be planted, nourished and harvested. We must teach ourselves happiness, as it does not often arise naturally.
Each morning I meditate on the joy of being alive. I center my fragmented and worried mind by reminding myself of all the blessings I have. The benefit of work. The beauty of nature. The relationships which have touched me. I even seek the beauty in the pain that life has brought me, for pain too is a teacher imbuing me with the potential of growth. Sometimes I must search hard, but buried beneath layers of self-pity and despair is the golden light of being alive. Beneath the darkness is gratitude.
David Stendl-Rast has written, “Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, and an Approach to Life in Fullness”, which is a blueprint for incorporating gratitude into our daily lives. It contains both theory and practice for incorporating gratitude into one’s daily life.