- Don’t analyse it. When you’re in a great mood, do you roll your sleeves up and get to work figuring out why you’re feeling so chirpy? No. So don’t do it when you’re feeling low! Often it’s simply inexplicable, so trying to identify all the things that are bringing you down will only pull those things front of mind and make you even more miserable. Accept that today’s an off-day and have faith that this too shall pass.
- Get up, take a walk. Make a cup of tea. Do a yoga video. Bake. Physically extract yourself from where you are and do something to – as the old-fashioned saying goes – “take you out of yourself”. Doing an activity that induces the famous state of “flow” can be helpful: art, writing, skilled manual work, like crafts, DIY. All these things require your concentration and help take your mind of your foul mood.
- Sink into it. If you can’t shake it off, revel in it. Throw yourself a full-on pity party complete with weepy film, chocolate and portable black hole to climb into. I find that giving myself permission to feel the sadness or anger or dissatisfaction helps dissipate it; what we resist, persists. I also find that after a couple of hours feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, I get fed up or annoyed with myself and end up doing something productive that changes my mood completely.
Nothing ruins time with my kids more than when I attempt to multi-task. They hate it when it’s “their time” and I am not giving them my attention; and, once they are off at school or in bed, I always regret when I wasn’t 100% present during the time we had together. Managing their dinnertime, for example, can be a fun moment to chat and talk about their day, but it is spoilt when my attention is split and I leave the table to hang up laundry, answer a quick email, or take out rubbish. In general, weekday time slots with the kids are short and precious. Make them the true focus of that time and it will be more enjoyable for everyone.
Don’t let technology pull focus. Of all the things that compete for my attention when I’m with the children, the most insidious and unrelenting is the smartphone. In the evening, put your phone on silent, stick it in a drawer or – whisper it – turn it off, to ensure you give your undivided attention to the people who are actually in the room. In most cases, your colleague won’t remember that she went to voicemail and you called her back later. Your friend won’t even notice that an hour elapsed between her text and your reply. But your kids will definitely be aware of how you made them feel during the golden hours between school ending and bedtime – seen and heard and important, or like they play second fiddle to your Android.
Try to get into it. Sometimes finding the strength and patience to make yet another Kapla tower or play an umpteenth game of Connect-4 it can feel like a superhuman act of will. In those moments, it sometimes helps to get genuinely super-enthusiastic – even if it’s just pretence at first. Get serious about winning the game, make your structure look like the Eiffel Tower, mix and match toys to create new ways of playing (my kids like making a massive “village” by combining the train set with the toy cars and the Playmobil saloon and farm). If you can find some true kid-like enthusiasm you might just tap into that Holy Grail of feelings: flow – that sense of being in the moment, connected and committed to what you’re doing. If you can hit that spot, everyone will have more fun and time will fly.
1. Adopt a holiday attitude – When we are on holiday, everything around us seems interesting, beautiful or memorable. A building, a park, a meal in a restaurant, even a bus ride. In the right setting, all of these things become photo-worthy. But what if your whole life were like that? On your daily walk or jog, as you by your newspaper or as you wait to take your kids into school, take a second truly to look around you and see your life as if you were a tourist in it. I guarantee you’ll notice something that is usually relegated to the status of hum-drum backdrop and find it astounding.
2. Put down your camera and pay attention – Psychologists have found that we remember less that which we photograph; that, far from helping us recollect a scene better, the act of taking a snapshot actually means we pay less attention to what we’re seeing. So, before you whip out the smartphone to capture a beautiful image for posterity (or, for the really brave, instead of doing so at all), take a moment to look at what you’re about to immortalise and take it in 100%.
3. Take a memory picture – A wise friend told me before my wedding to stop occasionally during the day to commit a moment to memory. I followed her advice and, to this day, I can still shut my eyes and find myself right back there in my dress, champagne in hand, listening to the band playing Summertime. When you come across a breath-taking moment in your life, stop and look, then mindfully close your eyes, like the shutter of a camera. Give your picture a caption, attach to it the smells and sounds around you. I’m sure that the next time you need a happy memory to brighten your day, reaching for the family photo album won’t even be necessary.