Words can empower, build people up, and cause personal transformation. And words can destroy, subtly or overtly crush people, and cause deep pain.
Today, I turn to two-word phrases that are empowering. These three phrases are the core parts of three of your character strengths.
When the wildly popular poet Mary Oliver was asked “What is spirituality?” she had this to say (paraphrasing): It’s when we go about our day and to each person we meet and to each thing we encounter, we say, “Thank you, thank you.”
What would happen if you used your strength of gratitude in this way? Could you say that (and mean it) to your colleague who is disagreeing with you? To your child who is screaming his head off? To your neighbor who is complaining to you about your lawn? Could you say a heartfelt “thank you” to the trees you pass by as you walk, the squirrel galloping by, and the piece of trash floating in the wind?
Forgiveness, at its core, is about letting go. It’s the opposite of clinging, holding closely to your grudges or harboring anger from misgivings of the past. Let’s turn to the wisdom of a child named Ian, who was interviewed about how he handles problems in school. He shares how he turns to his forgiveness strength at difficult times and uses the phrase, “It’s OK, it’s OK,” when someone wrongs him.
What do you need to say, “It’s OK” to? Can you say it (and mean it) to someone who apologizes to you after they hurt you? Can you say, “It’s OK, it’s OK,” to yourself when you feel anger or sadness welling up inside you, allowing the feeling to just be there? What about when you feel the world seems unfair and filled with nothing but hardship?
At its core, your character strength of curiosity is about exploration. To be curious about something is to intend to gather more information, to build new ideas, to gravitate to a new experience. Our attention becomes captivated in the moment, and we open ourselves to learning and experiencing the newness. Our mind is fresh and ready, and we feel refreshed.
You can prompt yourself to your curious mind with a response of “That’s interesting, that’s interesting.” Mental health professionals say this all the time to clients to show interest and to encourage the client to share more. We use this phrase in our conversation with a friend out getting a drink, in our friendly debates with someone who offers a different point of view, and when someone shares something surprising or insightful with us. “Hmmm, that’s interesting,” we say.
What would it be like to go about your day with this phrase in mind? Might you say it to yourself when you are struggling with a work project? When you feel stressed out in your relationship? When you are sitting in traffic? What positive action might this curiosity prompt?
These three character strengths – gratitude, forgiveness, and curiosity – have hundreds of scientific studies supporting their existence, uses, and benefits. Pick one strength.
If you were to focus on one of these strengths – using a phrase above – two things would be very likely:
1. You’d feel a boost to your personal well-being.
2. You’d be making others feel better, more empowered, or more connected to you.