How often do you practice gratitude? We are taught to be thankful when someone gives us something and to be kind to others but how often do we really have an attitude of gratitude? It seems as though in today’s society we spend so much time complaining and taking for granted all the beauty and wonder in our lives.
I like to think of myself as a pretty grateful person. I keep a gratitude journal in which I write down 3 things I’m grateful for almost every day. I also make sure to express gratitude for all the blessings in my life every morning and evening. I try to look on the bright side of things but I’m also human and can easily take things for granted.
You tell yourself the same thing over and over and eventually it becomes truth. Our minds are like magnets. If you continually tell yourself how broke, tired, or unhappy you are you will become that. Instead of focusing on the lacking, focus on abundance and great things will start to come your way, at least that’s what I truly believe.
I’m always up for a challenge, especially when it comes to lifestyle challenges. I like to expand my horizons, push myself, and try new things. After reading a book called “The Gratitude Diaries“ by Janice Kaplan, who spent an entire year challenging herself to see the bright side of everything, it inspired me to take on my own gratitude challenge.
There are those times when things are just not going the way I’d like (especially with two young kids!) and I feel my anxiety rising and frustration growing. Those days when I hit every red light or there’s road construction that leaves me at a complete standstill on the interstate. Those times when I have an appointment at 9am but find myself still sitting in a crowded waiting room for over 2 hours. Those times when I’m trying to get somewhere on time but my daughter refuses to put on her shoes. These type of things happen to everyone all the time. It’s how we decide to respond to those situations however that can be the key to our overall happiness.
For the past 21 days I have worn a purple string tied to my wrist. I did this to serve as a reminder to have an attitude of gratitude. Studies have shown that it takes approximately 21 days to form a habit. The deal was that instead of complaining or thinking negatively that I would instead find the good in whatever I was enduring and express gratitude in every aspect of my life. So when I found myself stuck in traffic instead of getting frustrated I took the opportunity to look around and admire the beauty out of my window, or I’d crank up my music and start singing and dancing grateful that I had ears to hear and a mouth to speak.
Some situations have been harder than others to find the good in, at times I would have to pause and really think about how I could shift my perspective to be grateful for whatever I was experiencing no matter how bad it was. But I’ve found that being mindful and seeing that purple string on my wrist has helped me be more intentional with my thoughts in a positive manner. Now that’s not to say that I was an endless ray of sunshine during this process, there were many times I would find myself returning to my old patterns but I recognized it and moved on and tried to do better.
I’m notorious for being cold, especially at the workplace, so I was always walking around saying “I’m so cold!” but who really cares? Who wants to hear that? It’s just me complaining about my physical discomfort and it serves absolutely no good. Useless chatter is what is it. So this was a small challenge for me to overcome. Normally if someone else says they are cold at work I chime in with “me too!!!! It’s freezing in here” and so forth but during my gratitude challenge I made a conscious effort to hear them and then I would not respond in my usual manner, I would instead change the subject to talk about something pleasant. I’d let myself say something about being grateful that we live in a country where changing the temperature can be as easy as pushing a button.
With a newborn baby a good nights sleep is something of the past. I typically get a few hours in before I get woken up to a hungry baby and then it’s a coin toss if I’m able to drift off to a somber sleep once again so many days I am running on fumes and utterly exhausted. A common answer when someone would ask me how my day was I’d immediately respond with “I’m so tired!!!” but since my challenge I’ve been responding with something along the lines of I’m great, or wonderful! And then I remind myself of how precious my little boy is and how much I love seeing his smiling face even if it’s at 3:22am. It truly has made me less tired and I’m able to get through the day feeling more energized.
Along with sleep deprivation a crying inconsolable baby can break even the strongest of human beings. So instead of getting worked up and frustrated I instead would hold my baby as close as possible, dance with him, and be grateful that I had that moment right then and there to be holding my child because there are some people who have lost children and would do anything in the world to have one more minute with them, crying or not. This has been the biggest game changer with my second child and it started even before I began this challenge. With my first child I had so much anxiety and would get stressed and overwhelmed when things were going the way I thought they should. I’ve learned to just go with the flow and find the good in every situation and let me tell you it has been a completely different experience, it’s been absolutely wonderful and fulfilling! I’m so much more at ease when I take a minute to express gratitude.
Having said that, do you know what’s really hard to be grateful for? Mosquitos. That’s right, mosquitos. Being vegan and a practitioner of Buddhism I do not kill anything, I believe every living being has a right to live. If there’s a spider in my house I herd it back outside with a piece of paper and if there is some unidentified flying little bug I just let it be. I tolerate the pesky little flies because they too are on a journey and who am I to take that little life away. However, mosquitos are like little villains sent from Dr. Evil to take every last bit of patience I have and to test my attitude of gratitude to the extreme. What is there to be grateful for when it comes to mosquitos biting you? I’ve been pondering this and still have no conclusive answer so if you happen to know please enlighten me!
So what did I really learn during these 21 days? While I tried to remain as conscious as possible of being grateful for every situation, thing, or experience I definitely found that I became hyper aware of other people’s complaints. It was eye-opening to see how many times people were complaining about different things. So many of our daily conversations are riddled with complaining and focusing on the negative. I brought this up to my husband one day after he was telling me all about his back pain but that didn’t go so well haha! He was definitely in pain this day and I think I only made the situation worse by telling him to find the good in his back pain!
I learned that gratitude is a practice, it’s not something can be perfected but it’s something we can incorporate into our lives to make them better. It can be hard to see the good in a bad situation but I believe that everything happens for a reason. Life is a learning experience, everything we endure is to help us grow and develop. Even the worst things that happen to us can lead us to greener pastures. I’ve been through some pretty awful stuff just like most everybody else. In fact I’d venture to say that everybody has gone through some pretty bad stuff, the stuff that nobody likes to talk about.
It may not come easy to be grateful for whatever comes your way but I think if you gave it a try you’d find that life loves you. What you put out into the universe will come back to you, so spread a little gratitude and see what happens. It can make getting through this unpredictable life a lot easier.
Even though I originally did this challenge for 21 days I have decided to keep the purple string on until it decides to come off on its own. I don’t plan on stopping even after that but I know there will still be times that I will be tested and I may not pass but at least I’m making conscious strides to live a life full of gratitude. I have definitely noticed that my general outlook has been much more pleasant and things actually seem to fall into place better and there is less stress and worry in my life. To me, gratefulness and mindfulness go hand in hand. When you are focused on the now instead of the past or future you are able to live a more meaningful, intentional life.