When I was a young girl I used to imagine that I had a long flowing colorful coat, rich with textures and designs — and dozens of pockets — all on the outside of my magnificent coat. Those pockets were for all the treasures I would find along the journey of my life.
Not a smooth stone from the babbling creek, not an intricate shell from the white sandy beach, not a shiny penny face up in the parking lot.
The treasures that I tucked into the pockets of this extraordinary coat were people — and specifically the gift or gifts that they gave to me just when I needed it most. Not material gifts — the gifts of their time, their attention and their nuggets of wisdom. My coat of many pockets was filled with touchstones that served as guideposts, beacons and anchors as I moved from youngster to teenager to adult.
I was reflecting about this coat and its multitude of pockets recently. It brought a warm smile to my face. I now realize that this mental imagery was my way of gathering positive experiences that provided me with comfort, hope, a sense of security at a time when my young life was in turmoil.
My younger brothers and I had a very tumultuous dysfunctional childhood and usually were not getting the warm connection of love, trust and safety from our parents. We moved frequently and often without notice. There was a constant undercurrent of uncertainty.
My vivid imagination and a love of fantasy was a great way to escape some of the realities in my young life. So I dreamt up my imaginary coat with an abundance of pockets. I would tuck words of encouragement and happy experiences from caring people in those pockets.. When I was feeling scared or sad, I would pretend I was wrapping that remarkable coat around me and I’d pull a treasured memory from a pocket.
Here’s a sample of the people and experiences I would tuck in a pocket of that imaginary coat:
A choir director from our church offered me to come to her home for free voice lessons when I was 9.
A kind hearted aunt opened her home and heart to me when my parents would have one of their big frequent fights. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast, treating me like a princess. She instilled in me a love of word games.
An elderly uncle whom we rarely saw throughout the year would faithfully show up every Christmas Eve with small boxes of hand-crafted chocolates for my brothers and me. Such a small gift, but we felt incredibly special to have our very own box of handpicked favorites.
I did not realize the substantial benefits of my imaginary coat and all those pockets chock full of happy moments until I dug deeper into mindfulness and learned how we can re-wire our brains for a “positivity bias” thanks to Rick Hanson Ph.D. , author of Hardwiring our Brains for Happiness.
One of Rick Hanson’s tools is so simple and remarkably effective: It is called “Taking in the Good”.
- Look for good facts and turn them into good experiences
- Really enjoy the experience – stay with it 20-30 seconds
- Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you
The reason that “Taking in the Good” deeply resonated with me is that my authentic self views life as “glass half full” but I can loose my footing at times when life goes sideways. I wanted to work on building resiliency so I’d be emotionally stronger in hard times.
I also wanted to find tangible ways to help others find and maintain more happiness in their lives. We can’t escape or avoid the adversities that we will have in life but we can prepare ourselves to be able to handle them with grace and dignity — and to get back on track sooner. Here is a link to this article on Rick’s website about “Taking in the Good”: https://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/
Looking back on my imaginary coat really underscored what Rick teaches about the long term benefits of “soaking up” the good experiences and accompanying feelings. I’m a firm believer that my imaginary coat protected me from losing touch with my true nature in spite of my childhood experiences.
“Positive experiences can also be used to soothe, balance, and even replace negative ones. When two things are held in mind at the same time, they start to connect with each other.” — Rick Hanson
As a footnote to my story about my coat with many pockets, I wanted to share that not only did these warm memories help me forge a “positivity bias” for my life, they served as a springboard for my own courage, love and kindness:
Because of that choir director, I later had the courage to try out for the middle school choir in spite of being brand new to that school and a blue color kid in a white collar school. I landed the role of lead mezzo soprano.
My sweet aunt consistently demonstrated through her actions, how to be a loving, nurturing mother. She became the consummate role model for the kind of mom I wanted to be for my own children.
My elderly uncle’s small gift brought to life one of my favorite quotes and one that I try to live by : The smallest deed is worth more than the greatest intention
I encourage you to start “savoring” those good experiences in your life – hang on to that warm glow for 20-30 seconds and revisit them when you need a pick me up. And….never underestimate the impact of your random acts of kindness to others.