‘Welcome to today. Another day….another chance. Feel free to change.’

Sometimes, the world makes no sense. In the newspapers over the last few weeks, various articles report on the abduction of hundreds of girls from a school in Nigeria by a group who claim that girls should not be educated in ‘Western’ ways. These girls have been taken captive and reports are suggesting they may be sold into slavery. It is beyond belief to imagine the agony they may be enduring and the horror and fear felt by their families is beyond comprehension.

I know I will most likely never have to deal with a situation where my children are abducted from school. When I think of how much care and attention our children get in schools, how brilliantly the teachers teach, how much effort is often times made, I absolutely thank my lucky stars that I have been born to live this life. Life can be hard and in Western culture this is no less true than in any other. All sorts of societal pressures and constraints are placed on people, mental health is not given the priory by government that it deserves. But when it comes down to it, our perspective on things really matters. And it’s good, for me at least, to alter mine at times.  Why is it that some people (like us) can live in relative safety while other people in other societies cannot. Why is it that our girls grow up with an absolute sense of entitlement around education while young girls in other cultures have to struggle so much for what are basic human rights? We are lucky….And while it may feel like we are all in the gutter sometimes Oscar Wilde stated so eloquently, ‘We may all be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. I love Oscar Wilde, I love that I have learned to read and have been educated, it has provided me with the opportunity to read and enjoy the beauty of his words. I never thought it was beyond what I deserved to be taught and to learn and it breaks my heart that it’s not something that other girls are given… the right to an education. I, for one, will look at the stars tonight and hope that those young girls in Nigeria can see them too. I hope that they can see the stars and mostly what I hope for is their safe return home soon… Hope matters. And so, to me, do each of those young girls.

When It Is Hard to Feel Grateful

When It’s Hard to Feel  Grateful…..

There are times in life when being grateful just doesn’t seem to fit well. When times are particularly tough, when someone lets you down, when the deal doesn’t go to plan, when your heart is breaking. How can people be expected to  feel grateful when terrible disappointments and hurts come into their life path?

Some people are more optimistic than others, without really having to try that hard. And it’s true that we cannot always fully choose how we feel. On days a person may feel down, they can continue to feel down no matter how much they try not to feel it. And part of that is life, because life is sometimes tough.

Can gratitude fit in on these down days or difficult times? Is it not a lot to except from a person who is dealing with loss or pain to feel grateful? Research says that it is not the feeling grateful that makes a difference to a person’s well-being, it is the effort that people make towards trying to be grateful. Making a conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude across the board is the thing that matters most when it comes to building up resilience to stress. This does not mean  feeling grateful for every single thing that happens or every situation a person finds themself in. Rather it is about adopting a position that is in alignment with gratitude. Choosing the idea of gratitude and trying throughout the day to stand close to it. People can choose to see gratitude as something to add to their daily diet, even if it is gratitude for waking to another day, gratitude for the experience of having been loved. There is nothing in that sort of attitude that denies or in any way tries to  diminish the experience  of difficult emotion.

Often with loss and hurt, the pain can be really intense and even felt very physically but there is a way to think about loss that allows space for that attitude of gratitude.  To think of the pain of the loss as bearing witness to the love that was felt or shared is a way to bear holding it. As Tennyson once said it was ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ and there can be gratitude for having experienced the love that caused the pain, even if a person feels very let down or hurt. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps people cope with crisis situations. It builds resilience and while we cannot always choose how we feel, we can make a choice about attitude.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude rather than trying to feel grateful is a mini-habit that enhances mental health. And it’s those small, daily, mini habits that matter most when it comes to mental health.

Dealing with Exams

Dealing with Exams

‘Sit. Feast on your life.’

I remember well how hard it was at times to study… especially if the sun was blazing and I could see outside to it to place I much rather wished to be. I remember working all day on Saturdays to get study done so that I could go out that night and have some fun. It was always worth getting the work done and I enjoyed the sense of knowing I had made an effort. We each have a different relationship with academic work, and a different attitude to it. Such is life. We have different interests and talents, many of which are not covered or recognised in state exams and therefore, much of what is great about a young person is not given credit in the form of points or marks. No one gets graded on their level of kindness, their interpersonal skills, their level of emotional intelligence and yet all of these aspects of how a person is plays a big role in how ‘successful’ our lives will be. This of course depends on each person’s definition of what success means to them. However, the state exams offer not just the opportunity to get qualifications that can lead on to other qualifications, the exams process affords us all the opportunity to work out the relationship we have with effort. This, apart from anything else it may offer, is a very good thing indeed.

Whatever age you are, whatever stage you are at in life, all people have to make an effort in order for things to work out well. Take the person who does not care too much about making an effort to study for an exam…. is that same person 20 years later more likely to be in a relationship they are not making an effort in? Are they more or less likely to be happy than the person who worked out years before that it is always worth making an effort, even if the end result does not work out the way you want it? All sorts of things influence relationships and our happiness but making an effort is definitely one of the things that matters most. State exams provide an opportunity to develop a positive relationship with effort.

People sometimes say youth is wasted on the young. Maybe people say this because young people, because of the stage of development  their brain is at, are not thinking long term necessarily and therefore don’t link their current life choices with their future. I don’t think youth is wasted on the young at all but I do believe that as adults, we have a responsibility to encourage young people to reflect on how their behaviour right now is impacting on who they may become and to encourage them to think, even for a minute or two, about the type of person they wish to be becoming. One way of doing this is to ask them what type of relationship they have with the idea of ‘effort’ and to offer praise and encouragement for effort, rather than having a focus on results. Effort is always the thing that counts most. It is always the thing that gives a sense of satisfaction, a sense of knowing you did as much as you could, whether that is to pass an exam and get the grade you want or whether it is to make a relationship with someone you really love work. Effort is what counts. And for me, this is as true today in all aspects of life as it ever was when I sat state exams. No-one ever regrets developing a positive relationship with the intangible yet very real thing that is ‘effort’. No one I ever met has told me they regretted making an effort. In the end, I reckon no one ever does.