Take in the Good

A lot of my time is spent helping my patients with problems, dealing with difficult or challenging or uncomfortable things. Fortunately, people also get better, make changes, and as a result of those changes, do well. But its funny— its often hard to take in the good. People think we flock to the good and shy away from the bad, but often that’s not the case. While we intuitively think that one of the most difficult parts of life is facing up to hardship, for many people, it is equally difficult (sometimes more so!) to take in the good bits.

Many of us have a near-constant stream of negative talk and recrimination playing in our heads. I messed this up and I should have done that better. It is so common, and so present, that we get used to hearing it, used to feeling it, and anything else feels strange or unnatural. In fact, when someone tells us good job or well done, we squirm. Sure, perhaps we like the praise. Most people enjoy doing things well and being recognized or rewarded for our efforts— but this is a little different. Many times, when someone says to us That was amazing our response oh, it wasn’t that good or eh, I think I could have done better.

Rather than take in the good and appreciate the complement, our instinctive response is to deflect, to minimize, to downplay, or avoid. For some reason, we struggle to hear that we did well.

Often, I’ll talk to my patients about making changes. We will talk about how to make changes, how to set better boundaries, how to express love, how to be more present, or come up with strategies for living healthier and exercising more. These kinds of changes are hard, take a lot of practice and work and dedication… and usually pay big dividends. I’ll see my patients back, and when they’ve made changes and improved, often they will refuse to see it. I’ll say something like, This is great. Before, you never exercised at all, and now, you’re walking the dog every day. You feel better, and you’re healthier! But the response is not usually Yeah, go me! Instead, its usually a deflection, or a minimization It wasn’t that big of a deal. And when we discuss this and how these changes have helped, it can be really difficult for people to say, yes, they have helped, and I feel better for it.

Nat King Cole sang, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Importantly, this greatest thing has two parts. We usually talk about the difficulty of loving someone, but we seldom talk about learning to be loved in return. How do we learn to be loved in return? Taking in someone else’s love can be a challenge, perhaps a bigger challenge than loving those around us.

It is often receiving that is more difficult than giving. For many people, accepting the good from others, taking in the kindness and generosity of those around us is more difficult than extending that same kindness and generosity. Most of us are far more comfortable offering help than receiving it. And yet, love and kindness need both a giver and a receiver. Love needs to be offered and accepted.

So, here’s our challenge. First, we need to notice in ourselves if it is hard for us to take in the good. When we receive a genuine compliment or expression of love or feeling of thanks, can we take it in? Can we let ourselves be a part of the good stuff? Or do we shy away from it, deflect it, minimize it, or run away from it? We need to notice.

Second, we need to practice taking in the good stuff. When we accomplish something, take pride in the accomplishment. When we have feel good about what we’ve done, enjoy that feeling. When someone tells us they appreciate us, cares for us, or loves us, take it in. Take in the good.

Lastly, if the people around you have a hard time taking in the good, here’s an idea. Blame me, send them this email, and start a discussion. Recognize that we all need to be able to appreciate the love and joy and beauty from those around us, and of the world we live in.

Practice taking in the good for yourself, and help those around you take in the good.

-Dr. Justin