I’m skeptical. I pride myself in being a logical person. Lately, I’ve been facing a challenge — one of gratitude.
It started with a story.
You know, one of those stories where the author starts off with the worst day possible and when things really hit rock bottom, they decided to do the unimaginable and consciously stepped into a space of gratitude. They began spouting off things they were grateful for and lo and behold, miracles happen and everyone lives happily ever after.
Yea, one of those stories.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. But another person next to me who was also listening to the same exact story starts to tear up and then shared another story about how gratitude changed their life.
I mean, I know gratitude is supposedly powerful. But it always feels silly and fake and new-age-y and all. But lately, it kept coming up in my life — I’ve been reading several books (am I one of those people who simultaenously read 5 books? Yes, and not one bit ashamed about it) and 3 of them mentioned gratitude. Ugh, it was like the universe was trying to send me a message (see? I’m even catching on to the language, yikes).
This morning, I woke up to some bad news and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself — spirally thoughts like ‘why me?’, ‘how much worse can life get?’, ‘I just can’t deal with this anymore’, and all that good stuff. And then I thought about the patients that I work with who struggle with depression and self-harm and suicidal thinking…and what an absolute hypocrite I would be if I didn’t at least try to make an effort.
So I put on some Fleetwood Mac, let myself feel shitty, and then told myself I’ll shift gears into problem solving in 10 minutes. And then a thought came into my head, and it said, ‘Focus on the opportunities’. Oh, and during this 10 minutes of rationed self-pity, I was also scrolling through Instagram and I came across this quote: Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
So I decided to do the unimaginable and I attempted the gratitude thing. Yes, it did feel forced and silly. But I also knew that I was genuinely grateful for many things — like the fact that I have the opportunity to be doing something I’m passionate about (what other jobs do you have where you get to intimately connect with someone’s deepest thoughts?). And I did feel better, and I was pleasantly surprised that four small, but good, things followed almost immediately.
I know, those four things likely would’ve happened regardless of my gratitude exercise. But by focusing on what I have, rather than what I lacked, I allowed myself to be aware of those very things — otherwise, I would’ve disregarded them and continued to wallow in my own sadness.
By focusing on what I have, rather than what I lacked, I allowed myself to be aware of those very things.
And no, consciously practicing gratitude did not get rid of the disappointment, resentment, exhaustion, and sadness that I felt. But it added a bit of hopefulness and encouragement into the bag.
And it sent of a very needed reminder: When bad things happen, it’s totally okay to give myself the space to feel crappy, but I am also completely capable of taking effortful steps towards a better outcome. Small as it may feel, it might just start with practicing gratitude for a few minutes.
When bad things happen, it’s totally okay to give yourself the space to feel crappy, but you are also completely capable of taking (small) effortful steps towards a better outcome.