Last week, parts of my life resembled the lyrics to a depressing country song. My parents' dog died (RIP Doc). My car sustained damage while being serviced at the dealer. Our fire alarm, hardwired into the electrical, would not shut off for hours no matter what I tried. This caused the dog to have anxiety ... for all of those hours. I received an empty bubble package from Amazon, slashed in the middle, lacking the vitamins I ordered. I pinched a nerve in my shoulder and had severe pain from my neck down my right arm for most of four days. Every one of those things in and of itself would have been trying, but compress them all into Monday through Wednesday, and my catastrophic thinker had me full-on believing that it was a bad week. A very bad week.
And I have a dark side so it is very easy for me to get depressed (so familiar) and decide I am a victim (so comfortable and yet so boring). But I know that while it was a trying a week, it was not a bad week. I know that every single one of us is going to have one of those weeks from time to time. As my mother reminds me, no person is immune from tragedy or trauma. Last week contained neither tragedy nor trauma.
So how did I turn last week around and not surrender my happiness to events somewhat out of my control? The simple answer is gratitude.
On Tuesday (before the fire alarm situation had even occurred), Brian and I were going for a pre-dinner walk with the dog. It was lovely out, neither too hot nor too warm, lots of flowers blooming, and generally pleasant. I turned to Brian and I said, "You got to help me get out of my head about all of these things going wrong this week. I need to do some quick-fire gratitude right now."
Gratitude is one of the easiest things for me to do, express, and embrace. I talk to clients about it all the time. Gratitude helps you focus on what is going right, not what is going wrong. It keeps you in the present moment noticing all the blessings in your life. Studies show that grateful people are generally happier. As an aside, they also are in better physical health.
Your brain patterns are not set. Gratitude is one way to shift your thought patterns away from catastrophic thinking and towards being focused on the positive. This does not mean spiritually bypassing your feelings and not getting upset when things go wrong. By all means, feel your feelings. It does mean not letting them consume you or blowing things out of proportion. Gratitude, I've found, is great for perspective.
With Brian, while walking the dog, I listed as many things as I could think of that I was grateful for in that moment. There were so many more things I was grateful for than the handful of weird things that went wrong last week. As I went deeper and deeper into gratitude, I could feel my shoulders relaxing and my anxiety waning. By the end of it, I simply felt better.
With my wonderful clients, I talk about gratitude as part of a healthy toolkit. Mindset is key to achieving goals, ending self-sabotaging habits, and believing in your value. Some of them have found it effective to keep a gratitude journal. It's fairly easy, and it either sets you up to have a good day or a good night's sleep. Here's how you do it:
- Place a notebook and pen beside your bed.
- Either before bed or when you awake in the morning, write down two to three things you are grateful for.
So simple! And now it's your turn. How do you tune into your gratitude?