Thank you for the good stuff – the baggage can stay where it is

My morning was rough. Not terrible, just rough. Just wearing. Just emotional. My afternoon and evening were long.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes, but…” But I wish things were different. But I haven’t had time to process my morning. But I had a long day and I feel sad now.

I was carrying stuff. Some stuff was mine. Some stuff belonged to other people. I had to put down their stuff. That’s someone else’s to carry. Someone else’s judgement isn’t mine. So I’m going to stop carrying it. Someone else’s disapproval doesn’t belong to me. Let it ruin their mood, not mine. I’m over here, minding my own business, carrying my own stuff. If I am carrying around someone else’s approval or disapproval of me, do I have space to give myself approval first? Not really.

I’ve been reading Never Broken by Jewel. If you knew me in high school, you knew I loved her songwriting. Years later, I also love her memoir writing. In the chapter I read right before going to bed, she talked about feeling gratitude. She carved out time each day during her troubled childhood/teen years and felt gratitude. Even in adversity, she found something to say thank you for.

What was going on for me was miniscule compared to people with significant problems. I knew that. But that didn’t make my feelings less real. I turned out the light and began to list things I was grateful for that day. Support of family. Running into a good friend. Meeting new people. The first signs of spring. I kept listing until I fell asleep.

What happened next surprised me.

I woke up in a decent mood. I didn’t notice until I was pulling my car out of the garage to head to work. My motivation was higher and my mood was lighter. By the time I got to work, I was inspired to thank someone who was nice to me the day before. Then I thanked a coworker who was nice enough to organize a party for someone. Saying thank you to the universe inspired me to say thank you to specific people. My appreciation spread.

I looked at the stuff that I had carried the day before. It didn’t even look familiar. Why was I carrying that again? It doesn’t belong here.

I have been trying to show more gratitude in my life. Some days are easier than others. Remembering to feel the gratitude is difficult sometimes.

All I know right now is I saw a positive change in myself through being more conscious about what is good in my life and what is mine to carry. Some days revelations come after lots of practice, some days they come after an experiment. What better motivation to keep such a practice going than observable change?

Now I’m trying to examine my gratitude more regularly. I am also trying to vocalize it with greater frequency.

If you’re still reading, thank you for being here.

Who can you thank today? Whose life can you improve?

It might be your own.

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Being Grateful When it Hurts

Gratitude – The quality of being thankful.

On my list of habits I wanted to build this month I included “gratitude.” While I could have been more specific on what that entails, I loosely defined it as, “A daily practice of finding at least three moments/people/things to be grateful for.”

I further constrained myself with one rule: No Repeats.

So if one day I said I was grateful for my fiancee, the next I could be grateful for the time we had together or a nice thing he did for me, but I could not get lazy and keep repeating day after day, “I am grateful for Matt.”

Now we’re halfway through the month and I am trying to keep up with my daily practice. A couple of days ago was a rough day for me. I had a headache. I was in a bad mood. I was feeling a lot of stress. I just wanted to crawl under a blanket and be miserable. I was well on my way to going home and throwing myself a pity party when I stopped at Starbucks.

The barista working the drive through had a wacky sense of humor. “Welcome to Starbucks, this is Angelina Jolie. What can I make for you?” he asked. I faltered for a second, then smiled when I ordered. He told me Marshall Mathers would take my money at the window. After he handed me my coffee he told me to “Have a grande!” as I drove away. Worst coffee joke ever.

I laughed anyway.

As I was driving home I made a mental list of my gratitude for three things that day. That day I was grateful for a Starbucks employee who made me laugh. This is not a story about how one person turned my day around or how the gratitude exercise made some massive improvement in my life. I went home to sleep off the headache. I woke up and did some reading. My day did improve. Massively? I’m not sure. But improvement is improvement.

Gratitude is supposed to have a lot of health benefits. It helps reduce stress, improves mood, and improves sleep quality. Just because it’s helpful doesn’t mean it’s easy. We all know the benefits of daily flossing, eating enough greens, and drinking enough water. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do those things daily without conscious effort.

After researching other people’s gratitude practices, these appeared to be the most popular options:

  • Gratitude journal (literally a notebook and a pen, nothing fancy)
  • Gratitude jar (Pinterest can help if you are into that sort of thing)
  • Several apps
  • Handwritten thank you notes

For my practice I just list what I am grateful for in my head. Another idea I had would work if you still keep a paper day planner or use a bullet journal. List your three things directly in a notebook you are using anyway. No extra materials needed.

Regardless of how you practice your gratitude, the most important part is actually feeling thankful for what you list. That is what gives you genuine thankfulness (and the benefits that go with it) rather than a halfhearted “thanks” and another item checked off on a never ending to do list.

What’s on your list to be grateful for today?