Q: I really struggle to have a positive outlook, and always seem to dwell on the negative aspects of life. Is there something I can do to help me be more positive about things?
Juli: Winston Churchill once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." Your outlook on life often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you see only the negative aspects of your spouse, your marriage will deteriorate. It's great that you recognize this as a problem and that you want to do something to change it.
Part of changing your attitude is being intentional about what you focus on. If you make a point to look at the blessings in your life, you will begin to feel more thankful. A good friend of mine recommends keeping a "thankful journal" to write down the blessings of each day. You can be thankful for your health, for a roof over your head, for the friend that called you, or for the fact that your child took out the trash without being asked.
Obviously, there are times throughout the day to tackle difficulties. Being positive doesn't mean avoiding conflict or the realities of your life. Compartmentalizing problem-solving can keep you from dwelling on the negative throughout the day. Give yourself a set time daily to think, pray or journal about the things that bother you. When that time is over, be intentional about noticing the positive.
Another helpful tool is called "thought stopping." Every time you find yourself dwelling on something negative, have a catchphrase that you say to yourself, such as, "I'm not going there," or perhaps just a word, such as "blessings."
If your negative thoughts are still overwhelming, you may want to talk them through with a good friend or counselor.
Q: A family of refugees from Africa recently moved into a house near ours, and I want to make them feel welcome. But they seem really shy, and I'm sure they don't trust me. How can I build a relationship with them?
Jim: First, let me commend you for your desire to reach out. You say this family doesn't "trust" you, but put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Can you imagine trying to make it in a country where you had no job, no car, no money, and you didn't even speak the language? I wonder if I'd survive a day in that environment.
But that's the reality for hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived in the United States in recent years. They have left behind friends, family members and the familiarity of home to find a new start.
There's no substitute for putting a smile on your face and simply walking across the street to say, "Welcome." Don't worry about the language barrier or the cultural divide -- a smile speaks volumes in any language.
Also, remember that refugee families don't settle in America on their own -- there is likely an agency in your area that is helping with housing, food and other basic needs during their first few months in the U.S. Contact this agency and ask how you can best reach out to this family on a practical level. There are likely many volunteer opportunities available. You might be just the person to help someone find his or her first job or learn English. Check with your local library or other organizations about English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, job skills training, and so on.
Make it a family effort, too. My wife and I want to give our boys examples of the "love your neighbor" principle in action. You don't have to be an expert in cross-cultural relations. You just need to be willing to be a friend to those who are often overlooked.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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