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  • rachelcostigan3

The Black Dog and Blessings

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

I had a black dog hanging around. He wasn't a ferocious beast. Just a mopey old hound, who would sometimes bound up to me, bowl me over and leave me flattened for months. Other times he'd rest, leaning the great weight of his front paws on my shoulders.

At a philosophy class they proposed that the dog wasn't mine: People aren't born depressed, they claimed. I think they concluded I hadn't spent much time around babies. The melancholy was so faithful to me, I insisted it had been at my heels for life.

Psychology professor Sonia Lyubomirsky suggests this might be partially true. Her research shows that up to 50% of the black dog could be in my genes. I assumed circumstance had a lot to answer for, but it turns out that only adds in 10%. That leaves 40% that is generated by a person's thoughts and actions, both of which are potentially under our conscious control.

Gradually it dawned on me- I was habitually ignoring good feelings. I realised I tended to focus on rumination, dismissing any glimmers of joy as nothing to worry about! Negativity bias - paying more attention to bad things that happen to us than good- is likely to be a built in human survival strategy. It might have kept us safe from wild wolves, but it kept the black dog by my side. It seems I'd actually trained myself out of happiness in a misguided effort to protect myself.

Heart focused meditation helps me to counterbalance this tendency: Deliberately taking time to bring to mind the good in life, and then savouring the uplifting emotions that accompany it, I can feel the chemical soup inside me change flavour as the cortisol subsides.

If I think I've had a bad day and lost heart, taking time out to contemplate the things I am grateful for- moments of connection, beauty or kindness- can often turn my perception of the day around.

Jotting these moments of brilliance down seems to crystallise or amplify the emotion, helping it shine. At the end of the day I can tune in to the good feelings rather than stewing in grumbles. Gratitude journaling has been shown to improve relationships, reduce stress, increase optimism and make people more altruistic.

Are you ignoring joy? Counting your blessings really does help. Creating a record of the moments you want to savour becomes a precious resource when you need something to tame the black dog.

These days I spend more time hanging out with a black rabbit

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