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The other day I was in a coffee shop enjoying my quiet time and doing some writing, when this lady sat down beside me. Like, RIGHT beside me. The cafe was virtually empty; there were a ton of other tables available. And yet, she decided to sit at the table joined to mine to make a very loud phone call.
I was seriously irritated. Here I was enjoying the peace, when this woman had to invade my personal space and distract me with her chirpy gossip session. I could feel my mood change. If I were a cartoon character, my face would be turning red and steam would start coming out of my ears. I had to take a few breaths to remind myself that really, this wasn't the worst thing that could have happened that day. Yes I was annoyed, pissed off even, but I'd get over it and live.
It would have been really easy to let that situation ruin my day. I could have packed up my stuff in a huff, and taken a grumpy march home where I'd then give up writing for the rest of my day, declaring that the roll I was on was ruined. Stuff in a Huff kind of sounds like a Dr Seuss book...maybe I'll pitch it to him.
I've done a lot of work with gratitude over the past few years. Throughout eating disorder recovery, and as a coping strategy for many mental illnesses, gratitude is a topic that comes up a lot. I believe that keeping a gratitude journal is important for everybody, as it does help to start to change your mindset to a more positive tone. It definitely helped turn my attitude around that day at the cafe.
Now, I'm not one to say that gratitude is a fix-all. I absolutely HATE when people tell me to "just think positively" or "just be grateful for what you have", as if that were the cure to mental illness, sadness, or dis-ease. I find that to be very invalidating, as a lot of us have a lot more hurdles and mixed up brain chemistry than others that we really can't just think ourselves out of. However, despite having a chemical predisposition for illnesses such as depression, gratitude can help to halt negative thought patterns, even if it's only for a moment. Interrupting those negative thoughts can be a great tool.
You don't have to write in your gratitude journal every day. A couple times per week is a good start, but you can set whatever goal seems reasonable to you. I have a book called the 5-minute Journal that calls for a quick morning and evening entry. I keep it by my bed, and fill it out almost every day. It's really nice to start your day off in a grateful mood, and to end off on a good note before falling asleep. The pages look like this:
I find that the more I write in my gratitude journal, the more I'm able to pick out small moments during my day in which to be grateful. Gratitude can come in all sizes, and doesn't have to be about miraculously positive events. Here are some examples from my own book:
I'm grateful for the perfect cup of coffee I had this morning
I'm grateful for my cat laying on my chest.
I'm grateful that it was sunny today.
I'm grateful for the elderly lady that stopped to talk to me about my hat.
I try to shoot for 3-5 entries per day. On bad days, it can be hard to come up with even one entry, but I encourage you to try. It doesn't have to be anything big at all; just try to find something that made you feel less crappy than you did the rest of your day. Maybe you really like the design of your mug; maybe your socks are fresh from the dryer. Whatever it may be, find at least one thing that you can thank the universe for.
In addition to my gratitude journal, I also keep a "happy book". This book started out as a journal that was given to me, and has morphed into this super dorky collection of crafts and trinkets that make me feel good. I also write my gratitude in this book occasionally. It is a mess of craft paper and quotes that looks like this:
My Happy Book is a collection of cards people have given me, quotes, pictures, and trinkets. I sometimes write my gratitude in this book as well. I have pages which contain coping skills, others that have friend's phone numbers to reach out to in times of need, and some pages covered in art. This is a great book to flip through when I'm feeling down, or need to kick-start my attitude for gratitude.
So, sitting there at my then-crowded table as the lady's acrylic nails tapped away on the table as she chatted, I decided to take a gratitude break. I stopped what I was doing, opened a new tab on my computer, and began thinking of my day's gratitude moments.
As a side note, I prefer to write things down in a journal. The process of writing them out takes just a tad longer, and gives the gratitude that much more of a chance to sink into your brain before moving on. At least that's my professional opinion.
Here's what I came up with:
Hey, just because you're practicing gratitude doesn't necessarily mean it always has to be pleasant. Just try to word things positively, like "I'm grateful that I was able to sleep in today," rather than "I'm grateful that I didn't have to wake up". It's subtle, but language is a very powerful tool.
Whichever way you choose to express your gratitude, I encourage you to notice how this affects your daily thought patterns. It can really alter the tone and turn your day around.
By the time I had finished listing my gratitude moments, the irritating lady had left, and I was able to get in another hour of productive work in a calm environment.
I'd love to hear from you! Share your gratitude moments below and let readers know what you're grateful for today. Connection with others is a piece of all of our health journeys; please comment, like, and share!