Any of you who know me, or have gotten to know me outside of Stratejoy, know that gratitude plays a big part in my life. My personal blog is called The Grateful Sparrow and (almost) everyday I tweet a gratitude list. It reminds me of how much in my life is good, great, wonderful – even (especially) on days when everything seems to be going wrong. But I have not always been this way.
Two years ago, I was full to the brim of negative self-talk. No one who knows me would’ve ever suspected it; I was just my cheery, optimistic self on the outside, but in my mind, I was absolutely horrendous. My default setting, the reason anything went wrong, was “I’m a mess.” I said it all the time. I said it laughingly to friends when I forgot something, “Ha, what a mess I am!” I said it angrily to myself when I made a mistake, “Why am I such a mess??!” I resigned myself to it and it became my truth.
I was working a 9-5 office job that, while it gave me wonderful security, was stressful, unchallenging, and not even on the same planet as any job I’d remotely want as a career. Every day I would zombie-drive the same route in the same traffic, zoned out and dreading the day, often sending up a little prayer to quell my anxiety and try to control the uncertainties facing me that I really couldn’t control. I would pass the first few hours of my day with a sinking feeling in my stomach and self-blame in my head, sucking all other thoughts & feelings down like quicksand. Every. Day.
Around the same time, frustrated with and trying to improve my acting career, I joined an artist’s co-operative. We kept each other accountable to our goals and supported and encouraged each other; the group aimed to bring us all out of our comfort zones and out of our unhealthy mental patterns that might be holding us back. Obviously (well, it’s obvious now), I had a lot of those.
One of the guys in the group suggested that we email each other with 5 things we’re grateful for every day, just as an exercise to get us into a more positive headspace. It was really hard at first. I remember driving in to work, dread and apathy vying for domination in the pit of my stomach, and sitting in front of my computer, staring at it blankly. What am I grateful for? The only time I’d ever thought about expressing gratitude outside of saying an obligatory “thank you” was on Thanksgiving, and that was usually muddled by a mouthful of turkey. Now I have to write it down? And send it to people?
I sat there trying not to think of all the things I’m not grateful for, and trying to remember the last time I felt super happy. Why couldn’t I think of anything? What was wrong with me?? Why was I such a mess?? I looked down at my hands on the keyboard. I have 10 fingers. I’m grateful for that. I know how to type. I’m grateful for “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing,” even though I hated it growing up. I’m grateful for the cup of coffee slowly waking me up. And so on…
My first six months of gratitude lists were like that. And sometimes they still are. I’m grateful for hot showers and good music and smiling. Some days I sat for a good 15 minutes unable to think of a single thing to be grateful for. But I didn’t let myself go a day without writing my list. It helped to get lists from the other people in the group – so much happiness was shared every day. Slowly, gratitude came easier; in fact, I started to feel that it was a necessary part of my morning routine. So when the group disbanded and the emails slowly stopped their joyous flow into my inbox, I decided I needed someone else to keep me accountable to my gratitude, and I began sending my list to my family, best friend, and roommate.
During all this, other things in my life began to change. Getting myself off of negative autopilot, even if only for the 5 minutes it took to write my gratitude list, made me realize that I was on autopilot in the first place. I started to wake up from my zombie state, snapping myself out of it on the drive to work by focusing on a particularly beautiful blooming tree on the side of the road, instead of the creeping traffic. I suddenly realized that maybe I felt like such a mess only because I kept telling myself I was a mess, and worked on replacing that phrase with a positive mantra.
My gratitude lists got longer, and instead of just writing out of habit, I started to really feel them; they made me happy. I woke up thinking of what I’d write, and they were bright spots in days that were otherwise less than stellar. I found myself not getting caught up in as much drama; when something bad happened, I would be upset about it for a little while and then, automatically, without even realizing it, I’d be thinking of the positives. I wasn’t Pollyanna, I wasn’t lying and saying things were fine when they weren’t, I truly started to feel better about everything.
I honestly believe that writing gratitude lists changed my outlook and changed my life. It is my quick fix to happiness, because as soon as I write down what I’m grateful for, I feel just a little bit happier. Every. Day.
Today I am so happy and grateful for dark chocolate & green tea, all you amazing lovely ladies out there reading, and R.W. for introducing gratitude into my life two years ago.
What are you happy and grateful for?