Blog #4 The WOW factor and the meaning of life.

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In this fourth segment of the series of excerpts from my clinical practice manuscript, I would like to share a segment regarding finding WOW in your life. The theme is a continuation of skills and techniques I have used in helping people to find meaning in coping with difficult times. As we continue to face the challenges of life in the Covid -19 era it is even more difficult to remain upbeat and positive. Finding your WOW maybe very helpful.

So often I had to invent new ways to help my clients make sense of their daily life experiences. I found that so much of their daily mindset was so tuned into being a negative thinker. Their life had become a burdensome drag of endless unhappiness. Although we all can at times lose our positive perspective, they would sink lower and lower until there was no sunshine in their daily vision. While others find a way to get back to the sunshine of their lives, my clients more often could not find that ray of positivity.

To find that sunny path I created the concept of WOW. I begin by asking what brings them a feeling of WOW? As usual when I pose a question there is often confusion. Clarifying, I reply do you remember that moment when you did something and said out loud or to yourself wow? I am asking them to recall and focus on that incredibly positive emotional experience. The hectic pace that most of us live our lives can create tremendous stress. Our remarkably busy lives can reduce our experience of WOW and the ability to find WOW in our daily life. Wow is the excitement found in daily experiences. Wow is when you can say and feel that something is so cool. WOW is to find the meaning and thrill of life either in its tiny moments or grandest scale.

Without enough WOW we experience more UGH. Daily life seems more and more ugly. Life gets consumed with an increase in needless complaints and meaningless aggravations. Focusing on UGH takes you to a suffocating stressful unhealthy existence.

The Wow Factor is the ratio of WOW or positive experiences to UGH or negative experiences. Every day it is possible to find WOW. It is there right in front of you. Even if you look up to the sky and see a dark cloud, try not to see it as foreboding but rather try to see it as nature’s amazing earthly creation. It is an artist’s palate of shades.

The journey of life is to find your WOW. Be aware that WOW can be felt through an expansion of our sensory world. This perspective is very much the basis of the popular “mindfulness” concept. I try to teach my clients to expand their sensory intake of life experiences. To gain this perspective I will take them on a ten-minute walk around my garden stopping in front a few flowering plants. I ask them to try to see the colors, smell the scents, feel the textures, and watch the insects going about their lives, notice your breathing, listen to the sounds of birds, feel the breeze and see the light around you.

Take a moment to taste your food rather than gulp it down. Feel a good stretch, an inviting shower, your smile in the mirror and hug your love ones. WOW is felt in these small daily experiences.

At times however life can become overwhelming. In these moments we need a step back and retreat away from our routine situations to decompress and get in touch with WOW. After a busy week of focusing on everyone else’s life problems I found that I needed to take Saturday off and go on a hike. I led hikes for a local hiking club and as we followed a trail, I often asked everyone to stop, focus on your breathing and listen, smell and notice. Within minutes we became aware of a totally different world going on around us; sounds of birds, frogs and insects, rock formations and wildflowers, the colors of the sky and our bodily sensations. This is the essence of what is today called “forest bathing”. After a good day in the woods soaking up this contrasting existence, our minds became clearer and solutions to problems came easier. Please take note that with the need for social distancing one may have to hike in smaller groups possible your family.

WOW can be found in developing passions. I will often ask my clients what they feel passionate about. What turns you on or lights up you day? Emotionally healthier people have many passions to enjoy and find pleasure such as gardening, cooking, painting, crafting, exercise, etc.

From a neurological perspective when we engage in a passion, we stop obsessing on negative thoughts that initiate our emergency biochemical flight or fight reflex. When this reflex gets triggered, the body releases the chemical adrenaline into our bloodstream preparing us for danger. As it builds up, our bodies tighten up, we breath shallower and subsequently less oxygen gets to our brain. Thinking becomes harder and our focus becomes limited to what is pulling the usually false alarm. Spending a WOW day in the woods reduces tension, shuts down the alarm, increases brain power and subsequently then improves our problem solving.

When your UGH vastly outweighs your WOW, one might need to step away even further. At times I found it important to take my camera out for the day without involving others. This allowed me to stop over focusing on issues and clear my mind. Taking time to see the world from the small viewfinder of my camera got me to notice more of the little things of life’s WOW that I was missing. I also found that I could be my own best friend. I did not need to have someone around to validate my existence.

Sometimes if our UGH levels are so intense, then you must step back even further. Try taking a vacation to some place you have never been to. This may be difficult right now but making plans for a future trip may be a way of finding WOW. Try taking up a new hobby or develop a new skill.

The biggest roadblock to recapturing your WOW is also to resolve major conflicts. WOW is often blocked by living with silent anger. When we are terribly upset we often bury the issues rather than bring about conflict resolution. We can get stuck on the Failure Road afraid of the “what ifs”. Even if the events we confront will lead to major life changes, the Experience Road will give us hope.

In summary WOW can be found from the smallest events and experiences to great new bold experiences. When our WOW/UGH balance is out of kilter we can find our way back to more WOW if we just try and catch negative thoughts and notice what is going on around us. When there are major issues, we must be brave enough to confront them. Anger will suppress all other emotions. Silent anger will greatly harm us.

Find your daily Wow!

Clinical psychologist 45 years in practice. Worked with children and adults. Love nature, hiking, photography and drums. Retired living in DC.

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