Gratitude. It’s just a trendy spiritual bandwagon, right?
Like yoga. Or mantras and affirmations. Like crystals, and incense, and sage.
Little diversions that make you feel like you’re improving your life, but which ultimately don’t amount to much.
Right. I hope you caught the sarcasm.
I am deliberately pushing your buttons so that you can recognize for yourself, clearly, how you feel about the practice of gratitude. Are you passionate about being thankful, indifferent, or resistant?
Have you been avoiding it out of a nagging feeling that it can’t possibly help you? Perhaps, a fear that if you make a practice out of it, you’ll feel like a spiritual imposter? Or, are you fully on board? Did you already write up a gratitude list this morning over a cup of coffee?
Wherever you are on the gratitude spectrum (enthusiastic, in-need-of-encouragement, or in-need-of-convincing), there’s a path forward.
But first I should explain why I’m such a gratitude-pusher. This did not happen overnight. I used to be a very negative person. Without going into my life story here, I’ll simply say that my first couple of years out of college were rough - financially, emotionally, career-wise. I had created for myself a perfect storm of pessimism and disaster. Then, a few years ago, the concept of gratitude as a way to improve your life was introduced to me and over a period of months and years it evolved from a brief and occasional practice, into a daily almost-obsession.
Because it helped.
Because the more I paid attention to all of the good that there was in my life, the happier I felt, and the more good seemed to come my way. There’s a good reason for this, but that’s a post for another time. For now what I want to do is give you some tools to help you pick yourself up off the floor when times are tough, or to keep the good feelings going when you’re already plugged in to the universe.
How to Do Gratitude
Personally, how I approach gratitude is entirely dependent on where I’m starting from. If I’m feeling miserable, it’s hard enough to get out of my pajamas and brush my hair. It’s nearly impossible to think about doing something as complex as examining my thoughts and feelings and shifting them. I believe most people can relate. So start with where you are right now.
There are several ways that you can "do" gratitude. I enjoy writing in a cute journal, but you can open up a word document on your computer, or grab some post-its, or even use scrap paper that you recycle afterwards. Not a fan of writing? Do it in your head. Have a supportive friend or partner? Talk it out - to them! Love your social media? Get up on a gratitude soap-box and do your activity there, then invite others to tell you what they're happy about. It's infectious.
In the end, it doesn't matter exactly how you get yourself thinking about and acknowledging what you're grateful for, so feel free to experiment and be creative with it.
When you’re absolutely mired in distress and negativity:
- Still in pajamas, and not because it’s your day off.
- Every other thought is stressed, or one of worry.
- You really don’t want anything to do with anyone.
- The couch, Netflix, comfort food, and a soft blanket are your only friends.
If all you can think are negative thoughts, then step one is to get that shit out, and transmute it. This is not so much about piling as many good thoughts as you can on top of the bad that you don’t see it anymore. It’s about lifting the negative thought into a positive light.
Start by acknowledging what is bumming you out, and then list at least three positive things about it. If you don't feel a little bit better by the third improving thought, keep going!
- My credit card debt is back up because my hybrid's battery died, and those things are not cheap. I am so annoyed and upset, and it feels awful to have this debt on my back again.
- I got a good deal on the battery and the service, and I knew a year ago that this repair was coming up. It was inevitable.
- I got the oil changed at the same time, and a free tow from AAA - so in a way this was pretty convenient.
- As far as repairs go, this was nothing serious, no one got hurt, and I have a working car again. I am so grateful that my misfortune will mean a paycheck for someone else.
By the way, if you're in a really bad place right now, you might be interested in this blog I wrote a few months ago: Everything is Awful.
When you’re neutral. Meh. The day could go either way:
- You don’t feel particularly motivated to do anything.
- You’re not in a “bad” mood, but it wouldn’t be difficult for something to tip you over the edge.
- You’re stuck between reluctant optimism, and pessimism.
- You’re waiting for something good to happen so that you can give yourself permission to be happy.
Go digging for everything about your life right now that makes you happy, and elaborate. When you look down at your list, you’ll be able to actually see how good things really are. Nothing is too big or too small to be thankful for.
Example: I am so grateful for...
- Sundays. I love my morning cup of coffee.
- Catching the sun rise this morning. It was beautiful, and I have a full day ahead of me.
- This warm weather. I can't wait for Spring, and soon we'll be able to work in the garden, and play with the dog outside.
- This playlist. This music always relaxes me, inspires me, and puts me in a good mood.
- Etc. etc.
When you’re feeling good, and want to continue that momentum:
- You’re a little nervous about feeling this good, and worried that you might unintentionally invoke Murphy’s law, or invite the universe to put you back in your place in some other fashion.
- You wish this day could last forever.
- You have so much energy and optimism that the list-of-things-to-do in your head grows by the second.
- Negativity from other sources repulses you.
The goal here is to affirm and anchor the good thoughts. Let yourself bask in the joy you're already feeling, and invite more of it in.
- I really can do anything that I put my heart and mind to. I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that are at my fingertips.
- I have so much to look forward to this month. I am grateful for my friends and family, and I look forward to all the fun we're going to have together.
- I love this house. It's beautiful, comfortable, and it's only going to get better as we start fixing it up.
Wash, rinse, repeat - as often as necessary, as often as you like.