You can literally transform your caregiving activities into increased happiness simply by looking at them in a certain light. That’s right, you don’t necessarily have to do anything differently as a caregiver. Instead, you look at what you are doing differently.
Positive psychology is all about simple actions we can do to increase our sense of well-being. Most interesting is the fact that many of the ingredients for happiness and well-being are already present in caregiving. Research shows, for example, that one of the most selfish things you can do for yourself is help others, or be in service of other people. Without a doubt, caregiving is this.
With so much focus on caregiver stress and burden and the challenges of caregiving, this can escape our attention. And it is attention itself (what we focus on) that largely determines our experiences. In other words, whether we experience something as stressful, burdensome, draining or as fulfilling and satisfying depends NOT so much on what we are doing but what we are saying to ourselves about it.
Reframing: What is it?
Reframing is a technique you can use to shift your perspective or point of view about an event or a person, including yourself. Bringing reframing and positive psychology actions together have the power to transform your caregiving experiences.
Reframing routine caregiving activities as acts of kindness
One of the exercises proven by research to increase people’s happiness is to do 3 to 5 acts of kindness per week. As a caregiver, you don’t need to do anything differently except reframe what you do as a caregiver as an act of kindness. Caregiving activities are acts of kindness. And chances are you are doing way more than 3 to 5 acts of kindness per week. To drive this home, and help solidify a new way of thinking, consider writing down all that you do for the person you are caring for and think about these things as acts of kindness. Hint: Anything you do to help is an act of kindness. The trick is to see it this way, and this may require some practice. You may be seeing these things as obligations or you may be feeling that it’s no big deal and you are just doing what you can to help. What may be missing is looking at them as acts of kindness.
Reframing both positive and negative events as “it could have been worse”
Things can always be worse than they are. This is the good news! We actually stimulate positive feelings when we remind ourselves of how bad things could be. Bryant, an expert on savouring describes this as comparing the outcome to something worse. You can apply this kind of thinking to both positive and negative events. Studies have shown that imagining a worse outcome increased appreciation of the existing situation. If you have a clear sunny day to drive to a doctor’s appointment, for example, you can imagine how the drive would have been if it had been snowing heavily that day. This can also be seen as a savouring exercise because it can make your experience seem even better.
The possibilities for reframing are virtually endless. Here are some more examples:
Reframe caregiving as one of the most important ways you can give or give back. Relationships and social connections are fundamental to our well-being. Connections to others can give life meaning and purpose and it is when we live a purposeful life that we feel happier.
Reframe caregiving as serving something bigger than the self. There is a greater meaning and purpose to life when we do so. Seeing your caregiving this way can help you enjoy the tasks, however menial they may seem at the time, and you can become more satisfied and happier.
Reframe caregiving as part of the normal life cycle and ‘what is’. Obviously you are a caregiver because someone you care about has an illness or injury or has age-related declines. And ahem, your turn will come!
Reframe the activities and responsibilities you have taken on as skills. Whether it is coping skills, communication skills, organizational skills, or personal care skills, they are all skills that you have either brought to your caregiving or have learned. Either way, they are valuable and are valuable enough to be paid if you have been providing them in the work force.
You get the drift. Consider this your call to action. Make a list of any caregiving activities that you view negatively and then consider how you could reframe them in a more positive light, which will increase your happiness and life satisfaction.