For a long time, I was skeptical about saying thank you, practicing gratitude and the like. I get twitchy about the idea of denying emotions, because it took me years to learn how to express myself and I wasn’t going to give up on that without a fight.
I tried it out on my family first with this gratitude bunting banner, using recycled books. Teehee… using my children as guinea pigs and all that… But, it worked. The shift in the family mood was quite dramatic. We still grumbled and stuff, but the days started out better and a lot of tetchiness smoothed out. This made me rethink my views on being thankful.
Before I get into my random run-ins with gratitude and how it works, I wanted to say thank you to the lovely ladies who inspired this post – Tyneale Hahn, the Makeup Artist who sent me these beautiful pics of Laurie Oxenford taken by Ninique Photography and said I could share them with you.
Being grateful sounds like we should look at dog shit on our shoes and say, ‘Ooh, isn’t it a lovely day’ or, ‘don’t the roses smell lovely’. Completely denying the annoyance at having crap on our shoes – Pollyanna in serious rose coloured glasses frolicking through a toxic waste dump and all that.
What I found really surprising is how it helps me shift perspective and deal with the situation better. I think this is because it’s actually a contemplative mindfulness exercise dressed up in a pretty bow.
About that time I trod in dog poo
So, I had dog shit on my shoe and I started out on my usual spiral of thinking, ‘oh, woe is me, why do these thing always happen to me. This is a disaster. Why do I ever bother trying to leave the house…’ and on and on.
Somehow, in the cloud of stench, I saw a thankful experiment opportunity and thought, ‘I’m really lucky to have shoes to protect my feet’. Magically, it stopped the downwards spiral.
My thinking turned to, ‘Geez, this shit really stinks. I wonder where I’m going to find a tap.’ A lady walked past, I laughed about my bad luck with her. We had a chuckle and she told me about a tap over by the oval.
Gratitude at home
There was this one time at band camp… Ahem. There was this one time hubby forgot his phone and called from a random stranger’s phone to ask (sheepishly) if I could take his phone into work, because I work from home.
I took a deep breath, thought ‘I’m really thankful for my loving husband’ and said to him, ‘I can’t bring the phone to you. You’ll have to come back and pick it up.’ Granted, my tone could’ve been less, ahem, grumpy, but still…
This is the bit that surprised me. We hear all about how lovely and relaxed being thankful makes us feel and yes, that’s true a lot of the time, but it can also help keep things real.
Without the gratitude experiment, I probably would’ve been too mad to think, let alone articulate my situation and I would’ve stomped into his office with the phone and not been able to do my work due that day.
Gratitude at work
Don’t get me wrong, I realise there are times we have to bite our tongues, but I’ve found being thankful in those situations useful too. Like when a client makes an error and suddenly my last three days worth of work is useless. I think, ‘I’m really grateful to have work,’ or whatever else I can think of at the time.
This has stopped me from shooting back that, ahem, brain dump email. Instead, I send a detailed outline of the work I did and why they still need to pay me for the work.
Gratitude in really difficult times
I’m not sure how useful it is to be thankful when things are in a really bad way. It just sounds wrong to be thankful if you’ve lost loved ones and you’re trying to keep your remaining family safe and flee from a war zone. However, people who have endured those things often talk about how focusing on the things they love got them through. Perhaps, that focusing on the loved ones who are alive is a form of gratitude?
When my baby boy was two weeks old and his life was touch and go. There was one particular day when I didn’t know if I’d see him again. It may sound strange, but I remember thinking how lucky I had been to meet such a beautiful little person.
This thought opened the floodgates of tears I’d been fighting back and those tears helped me feel a little bit better and somehow facing the terror of the situation seemed possible.
I know this is not always doable. There were plenty of times I raged against the horror of the situation my little boy was in – all that medical poking and prodding, but being thankful for him was a part of my road through.
Feeling all the feels
I think the trick is to not feel bad about having feelings. Feelings are real and a part of life. My being thankful experiment hasn’t made me blissful and happy all the time, sometimes it shoots out feelings I’ve been sitting on for far too long and that ain’t pretty. However, being thankful has definitely helped my resilience, my general bounce-back-ness, contentment and mental well being. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful – apologies, pun intended 😉
How to practice gratitude (a quickie)
If you’re curious to see how it works for you, you can take a moment now and quickly write 10 things you’re grateful for. The most important part of this little game is noticing how you feel before you start the exercise and how you feel after. I’d love to know if there’s a difference.