It’s that time of year again when all the Positive Patsy’s come out to shine their light and joy on us all. We should be so grateful *insert eye roll.*
If you’re sick of hearing about gratitude lists and positive vibes but also want to get out of that funk you’ve been in for 20 years, listen up, friend. You’re in good company.
Can I tell you a little story about myself? You see, I was a piece of trash who came to life – not literally of course, this isn’t a Disney movie. But nevertheless, I felt like trash. I wanted to be surrounded by trash. I didn’t think I had any greater purpose or value other than to be trash.
And yet… I had this friend that radiated pure love everywhere she went. Most of the time I found this incredibly annoying. She was a beautiful butterfly and I was a lousy caterpillar. I wanted to be just like her though. I wanted to be joyful and happy. I wanted people to like me, too.
One day I finally asked her what it was that made her so bubbly and joyful. She said it was gratitude. My stomach sank. I’d tried that. I’d made dozens of gratitude lists and felt no change. I tried to list 3 things every morning, but all I could ever think about was how to get coffee in me faster. Gratitude couldn’t be the answer, because it never worked for me.
Life can be so unfair.
Years passed after that conversation. I kept the desire for more alive in my heart, but I still felt like trash. I dreaded that dang tradition of going around the dinner table and saying what I’m thankful for each year. Anything I could think up felt either trivial or cliché and I hated, HATED, trying to be vulnerable and open up in front of anyone, family included.
I was sick of toxic positivity telling me to look the other way when my life sucked. I was tired of being told to “be grateful for what I have” when I wanted so much more.
So what happened? How did I end up becoming someone who goes on every podcast interview she’s invited on and preaches gratitude as the key to happiness? I figured it out.
I was going about gratitude all wrong. It seemed so simple, but for someone who’s mindset was so in the gutter, I couldn’t see it before. I’m going to share with you the gratitude practice that changed my life and the new method I personally use that keeps me grounded in gratitude when I’m triggered by the obnoxious behaviors of others.
But first, I want to let you know one thing: it’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to want more. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can be grateful for what you have, while acknowledging the undesired experiences you face and while wanting so much more for your life. Life is not black and white, it’s a full spectrum of color.
The Grounding Practice
Grab a notebook and write down a few things.
- List 5 things you’re grateful for. I know, this part sucks and it doesn’t work. Bear with me.
- Imagine life without those 5 things. This might get dark, but do it. Really think about what your life would look like without these things (or people). Walk yourself through one day in your life without them. Let yourself feel the feelings of loss.
- Deep breath. Release what feelings are coming up now.
- Write down all the ways your life is BETTER become of those 5 things you listed.
- Notice what you’re feeling now; that’s gratitude. Hold it for a while.
The cliché doesn’t seem so cliché and the trivial doesn’t seem so trivial when you strip it down and get to the root of WHY you feel the way you feel about them.
The Everyday Gratitude Practice
Here’s the thing, listing 3 things I’m grateful for in the morning is still not my thing. This is the trick I use instead. I use gratitude throughout my day to shift out of a negative, angry, easily-triggered mindset. I do this practice when I’m feeling agitated – usually by my kids, if I’m being totally honest.
- Change location if I can. I usually try to step outside into the fresh air.
- Deep breaths. Count of 3 in, count of 3 out. Repeat at least 3 times.
- Think of all the things I love or am grateful for about whatever/whoever is frustrating me.
Three weeks after I started the practice I just shared above, I had an eye-opening experience. I walked into the kitchen as my then 1 year old threw the glass coffee carafe on the ground. It shattered of course. What I did next was a shock.
I grabbed that child. I hugged him close. I felt a rush of gratitude sweep over me. I gently told him how much I loved him. I set him on the couch in the next room and went to clean up the broken glass. As I was sweeping the glass it occurred to me how out of character that was. Normally I would have yelled. I would have been pissed. Maybe I even would have cried at the fact that this meant no coffee in the morning. But I didn’t. I felt love.
What I’d done was rewire my automatic responses. Instead of reacting in anger, I’d trained my brain to choose love and gratitude when my kids were ‘misbehaving.’ This gave me the time to slow down and get clarity. This helped me to understand that my kids are simply doing the best they can with what they have everyday. Sometimes their curiosity gets them into trouble. Sometimes I’ve failed to teach them a skill they needed at that moment. Sometimes they need attention and they don’t know how to ask yet. They were never trying to upset me and the kindest thing I can do for them is learn to not be so easily triggered by the way they are learning.
What I’ve learned from this is that gratitude leads to grace, and that can change everything.