The Art of Feeling Gratitude

This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of energy thinking about in recent times.  What started it all was a rather stressful year (planning a wedding while starting a new job = complexity! stress! %$&@!) and the realization a while into it that my tendency to stress was actually beginning to take a very physical toll on my health in a million myriad ways that I won’t bore you with right now.

I made the conscious decision that I needed to chill the H*** out and find a way to retrain my mind to focus on the positives rather than on the negatives; to “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda might recommend.  Because, to be honest, I’ve had a closet pessimistic bent since childhood.

I once had a History teacher in middle school that required us to keep a “Gratitude Journal” where we needed to write 5 things we were grateful for each day. I can’t for the life of me recall how assigning this journal worked into History lessons, but that is beside the point. If I I ever run into this teacher again I will have to make a point to thank her–both for the idea of noting the good things in your life on a regular basis, as well as for not flunking me when she discovered the notes my friend and I wrote back and forth to each other about her bad dye-job. Thank you, Ms. M. It really was a lovely shade of Orange.

At any rate, a few months back I decided it may be a good idea to reinstate this practice to see if it would help cheer me up a bit during those days (ok, every day) when I would be quietly stewing at my desk, pondering how much I hate staring at forms all the live-long day. It sounds cheesy as H***, but it worked. I definitely began to see a gradual improvement in my overall mood over time when I would force myself to make note of all the good things happening around me, instead of devoting an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the things that irritated me, which is unfortunately the habit I had gotten into. Turns out, there is easily as much awesomeness, love, and joy as there is nonsense and aggravation in my life, and I am very grateful that the overall balance has definitely tipped in my favor.

Another thing I’ve been working on is how to avoid worrying so much (another unfortunate neurosis of mine) and have faith that things will work themselves out so long as I keep doing my personal best. Again, I suspect the foundation for my neurosis is buried deep in the bowels of childhood somewhere. I’m always thinking 10 steps ahead of where I’m at and imagining all the possible ways my personal plans could go awry, and then planning for all possible contingencies for those.

This is a great ability when planning for a long trip, or preparing for an important work presentation in which my neurotic crystal-ball-like prophecies demand I remember to save an extra copy of my PowerPoint on that spare flash drive I have laying around for when the wi-fi connection in the room inevitably fails…

But as you can probably imagine, it’s a slightly unhealthy way to approach life; constantly envisioning your impending doom.

I hear the priest at church echo this advice nearly every week; to cast off all worries and doubts in this world. The first few times I heard this advice I immediately wrote it off as Bogus and thought to myself, “Yes–that sounds nice and all, but realistically, how can anyone go through life without worrying or doubting anything, ever?” Especially considering all the innumerable ways X could go wrong (15 of which I’ve already foreseen and calculated potential contingencies for?!?)

Being blindly optimistic in the face of harsh reality or blithely standing in the road smiling at that Mack Truck bearing down on you seems stupid and irresponsible at first glance. However, it actually makes some sense when you think about it. After all, we all make bad decisions when we are scared or stressed, right? We get defensive, we cower, or we lash out, we run away…we smash the lids of our laptops down far harder than we should in fits of rage and break their fragile inner parts.

Just fyi, I’m posting this as I speak from Mike’s laptop…which has become the “family” laptop when a few months ago my own had an unfortunate accident…

So, yes. I am beginning to see the logic in avoiding worrying about the things I have little or no control over. I do like control…but,

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans

~John Lennon


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