I never wanted to be the cliché girl who only saw rainbows and unicorns. I thought I’d balance out the world with a healthy dose of eye rolling and cynicism. So I cringed at the annual 30 Days of Gratitude campaign, the ultimate eye roll inducing garbage. It was THE most annoying thing and It. Was. EVERYWHERE.
There came a day, however, when I realized that I was getting older and older and more and more set in my negative ways. My negativity was preventing me from a genuine happiness, certainly from any contentment and even from being comfortable in my own skin. I desperately wanted to change but I wasn’t sure how to do it.
I felt completely ridiculous, the weight of my pride was so heavy and my ego so big. Fake. I felt completely fake. How could I possibly jump on the gratitude bandwagon after protesting it for so long? But I gave it a chance and started to feel a change (if the Grinch who Stole Christmas is playing in your head right now, you’re not too far off base).
I still include the occasional eye roll, just to keep things balanced. But for the most part, I try to be intentional about cultivating gratitude in my daily life. And I have seen some significant changes:
It redirects my focus.
Our thoughts are powerful and what we focus on is what grows into our lives, into our character. When you look for negative things you will find them and you’ll just keep seeing more of them until that’s all you see, because that’s all you look at. The same can be said for positivity. When I become purposeful in looking at things in my life to be grateful for, I am redirecting my focus from the negative to the positive. And the more I do that, the easier it becomes to see the good and to see it more often.
It allows me to disengage my cynicism.
Cynicism can be an all controlling force. It is an easy hole to fall down and a hard one to climb out of. Gratitude forces me to let go of the cynicism and put it aside for a while in order to see the positive. At first, I put it aside just long enough to write down a few things I was grateful for. Then I’d walk right back into it and allow it to continue controlling my life. But the more often I disengaged in order to find the good, the easier it became and less comforting it was to pick it back up again. Cynicism is often a safe place for those of us who don’t want to be vulnerable.
It gives me hope that this world is not all bad.
When I spend time focusing on the positive things, it makes me realize that there is more to life than the grey scale view I’ve been holding onto. It doesn’t mean bad things aren’t going on around me but it does mean that there are also great things happening all around me, too. And if that’s true, then there is hope. And hope is something to be grateful for every single day.
It retrains my brain to see the good.
When you force yourself to find something every single day to be thankful for, it can be hard. Some days are just difficult and you have to look deeper to see something less than awful. But the truth is, you can always find something, even on the worse days. And the more you do that, the more your brain begins to pick the good things out of a crowd. You’ll start to naturally see the good and not always have to look so hard. I remember the first time I went through a tough situation and it wasn’t until afterwards that I could look back and realize I handled it with a sense of ease because even in the midst of difficulty, I was able to see the positive and move towards it without even thinking about it. That was the first thing I wrote on my gratitude list that night.
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You don’t have to join the 30 Days of Gratitude party if you don’t want to (but I totally won’t judge if you do). You can do other things to help move yourself in a more positive direction. These are a few things I did – and still do – to help cultivate a daily practice of gratitude. And it is a practice, my friends. None of us are doing this perfectly. Trust me.
Write it down.
There is something about writing it down that kind of solidifies it in the brain and makes it more real. It’s also nice to have something written down that you can come back to, especially on those difficult days when gratitude feels like complete bullshit.
Do it daily, weekly, whenever – make it your own.
There’s no one way to do this, so don’t ever feel like you’re doing it wrong. The only way to make it work for you is to find ways to make it authentic. For a while, I was writing down three things each night that I was grateful for from that day. I got away from that for some time and was just writing things down weekly as I reflected in my journal. When I moved a bit further from my job and had a longer drive, I started using that time to think about all the things I’m grateful for. I would try to see if I could keep the list going for the whole drive. Find what works for you so that it actually becomes your habit.
Talk about it.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to talk about the poor service you had or about someone who pissed you off? It doesn’t ever seem as easy or as natural to rant and rave about something good that happened. We rave about really incredible things happening, like miracle status things. But not the average, every day good things. Think about how mundane the last thing you complained about was. What if you replaced that with something equally small but positive?
Fake it ‘till you make it.
I know this one is rough. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to see something good even when it doesn’t feel good. Ab workouts don’t always FEEL good either but you force yourself to do it and are grateful later. Gratitude is a practice. It won’t always feel great or look great or be easy. It’s okay. Acknowledge that it’s hard today and that you’re struggling. Move on. Do better next time. Be grateful that you tried. (See what I did there? Always something to be grateful for.)
At the end of the day, you choose your attitude and you determine the direction of your life. Gratitude can be a total game changer if you let it be. It’s up to you.
What can you do today to start cultivating more gratitude in your life?
Go all in. You’re worth it.