“Uh-oh. You’re sighing.” This observation by my husband usually follows repeated efforts on my part, to get something to work. It could be anything from a machine to a recipe, but eventually my frustration reveals itself in a sigh.
And we’ve all done it. We’ve exhausted our reserves of effort, patience, or sheer stamina, and there it comes: The sigh. Scientists say we do it to reset our breathing, after a long spell of monotony. They also say we sigh for negative reasons far more often than the sigh of relief or the sigh of joy (picture a coed swooning over a bouquet of flowers sent from the right guy). Yeah, not too common.
Most often when we sigh it expresses sadness, despair, weariness, discouragement, frustration, or even anger. And, while these are all normal emotions, it might be a good idea to check the balance in our tires, and see if we’re feeling discouraged more than encouraged.
If you sigh every time you do a household chore, every time a child interrupts you, every time you look in the mirror, and every time you prepare a lesson for church, you’re in for a pretty depressing day. You’re also conveying a dismal outlook to those around you. If routine events rob you of all enthusiasm, you need to reframe those routine events. Instead of seeing your obligations as dreaded tasks, see them as opportunities. Yes, you have to do laundry again. But yes, you get to care for a family, use modern appliances, and have clothing to wash. Some people can’t imagine a life as blessed as that.
This isn’t just Pollyanna pap. For example, I am easily discouraged with electronics. If my computer stalls it doesn’t take me long start sighing, my patience already gone. But my husband can sit down and fiddle for an hour trying to untangle the knot I’ve already given up on. He simply frames problem as an exciting challenge to conquer. Conversely, his patience in a fabric or craft store wears thin (hence the sighing begins), whereas I can wander for an hour without sighing once. Okay, maybe a sigh of longing for a particular expensive ribbon.
We all have things we enjoy and things that irritate us. The key is to know yourself, and know which elements of life get you down, which things make you sigh and feel blue. Then actively reframe those events to ward off discouragement, and to keep your spirits up. None of us are going to enjoy life, help others, or be good missionaries if we’re dragging around in a slump—we owe it to ourselves and others (and even to our physical health) to stay optimistic.
One way I’ve actually found to cut down on my “sighs” is scripture study. It energizes me, empowers me, and increases my faith in the future and in God’s assistance—all of which help me approach daunting tasks with a lighter step. It reminds me of a quote I like, by Boyd K. Packer: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitude and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
Another help is to plan a reward for remaining upbeat around a difficult person, or during a difficult assignment. Allow yourself a fun excursion, extra time with a good book, or whatever treat can be your “carrot.” And here’s a strategy that’s been around for generations: Literally start humming a peppy song. You know the phrase, “Whistle while you work”? It came about because it’s actually great advice for making unpleasant tasks brighter. If you’re humming or singing a song you like, you won’t be sighing with discouragement.
Yet another idea is to model a can-do attitude for our family members, and show them the power of pushing through a struggle without getting grumpy. We can also realize this is a mark of maturity, and simply work on being less petty, less easily bummed out by life’s little trials. We can practice taking things in stride and not allowing every obstacle to get under our skin.
Yes, some of this is looking for the silver lining, or playing Pollyanna’s gratitude game, always searching for something good. But guess what? People who do that, find it. You always find what you look for.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.