Be Grateful. For Everything.
Especially that which you perceive to be “bad,” unlucky, unfortunate, life-ruining, or just plain shitty. That’s when it will make the biggest difference. I don’t mean you shouldn’t react to it, or that you should gracefully and peacefully accept everything. That’s just ridiculous and unrealistic! Be yourself and express yourself authentically. And also be grateful.
There are plenty of “bad” things that will happen to us. Some of them will be pretty superficial, some will be major, and some of them will turn out to be blessings in disguise. If we can more frequently recognize that this one event is not the whole story of our life, and that WE have a major say in the chapters to come, we will be happier. So how can we put things in perspective and bring more gratitude into our lives? Here’s what I do (my personal experience is in italics).
Appreciate and express gratitude for every good thing in your life, no matter how big or small.
We often express gratitude for big-time positive events or developments in our lives, and that’s great! Also try to express gratitude for all those little things. When you can consistently highlight and acknowledge ALL of the good things in your life, it paints a great big positive picture that’s not so easily overshadowed when something bad happens.
This practice alone has changed my life. On a daily basis I’ll say thank you for things like sunshine, clouds on a hot day, open spots at the gas station, a perfectly ripe avocado, a good night of sleep, or even a stumble that didn’t result in a fall. I try to take a moment and REALLY experience it. Drink it in.
Here’s a story to illustrate the power of this strategy:
How often do you, or someone you know, complain about hitting so many red lights? We’ve all been there…running late or just doing a lot of driving and it seems like every single light we hit is red!!! Aggravating!
One day I was super frustrated and decided I would count every traffic light and red light on my trip – just so I could have some hard data to complain about later! Fun fact: I love to count (my parents used to call me The Count…ah, ah, ah). So I counted for a few days. Anyway here’s what I found:
I didn’t actually hit that many red lights. It was something like 6 out of 11 that first day. Definitely not complaint-worthy.
Most days, I hit more green lights than red lights.
Some days bring more red, some bring green. At the very worst, it seemed about equal.
I was much less frustrated, and I actually started becoming consciously aware of green lights! When I would get 2-3 green lights in a row, I would feel GRATEFUL! And then, when I’d hit an inopportune red light, it didn’t seem so bad.
This a microcosm of life! Some days will be great, some will be terrible. Many will be somewhere in between. Appreciate the great days, and the good ones as much as possible: it will become less conscious and you’ll begin to notice more and more good things in your life.
Here are 6 more powerful tips that have helped transform my own mindset:
1. Once you have allowed your initial reaction to something “bad,” smile, take a deep breath and say “I accept it” and “thank you.”
2. Think of 1-2 (more if you want) examples of times when you were absolutely devastated by an event, but you ended up being SO much better off because of it.
3. Think of all the major lessons you’ve learned from experiences you perceived to be “bad” in the moment.
This one really does help me. I might be miserable, but I at least consider “how can I learn from this? Is there some way to grow from it? How could I use this experience to help someone?”
4. Smile 10 times. They can be fake, I don’t care, just DO it!
As much as I practice this, I still occasionally have to force myself to start. But by the 6-7th smile, they usually start becoming more real. Try doing it in front of a mirror :)
5. Think of all the wonderful things that ARE in your life. All of the people who DO love and care about you. All of the skills, knowledge, and health you DO possess!
Sometimes when I do this, I still feel crappy, and I WANT to feel crappy and sad and pathetic. But I believe that at least acknowledging some of the good helps – even if it’s not right away.
6. Express yourself physically.
Move! This thing that happened is making you feel some kind of way. Often times your body wants something…probably some kind of weird expressive movement. Listen, let go, and just move! Stomp or twitch, jump, run or wiggle. And be grateful for this expression. It will help.
There have been times when something happened, I felt awful, and just moving without thinking was very therapeutic. There have also been plenty of times I felt down for no apparent reason – again, movement and physical expression made the biggest difference! I’ve often found relief from shaking my body, rolling around on the floor, stomping, and jumping. Do what you gotta do – the body is designed to move when stressed!
I myself practice everything I've shared so far.
I did it after the last time I saw my Pop, I did it when our childhood dog died (the first love of my life), I did it when I totaled my new car, fractured my heel, dislocated my shoulder (both times), and when I felt totally alone, unwanted and unloved.
And by the way, UNLOVED? ALONE?! C’MON! I have never truly been alone or unloved, never even been close to that, but we can convince ourselves of some astounding and hurtful things. And that’s what leads me to believe that we can convince ourselves of some astoundingly wonderful and healing things as well!
I practice this every single day with the little things. From traffic jams, stubbed toes, and spilled quinoa-milk (just kidding…I never spill that), to toothpaste in the eye, running into doorways, and untimely auto-corrects. I’m not always great with it – sometimes I resist my strategies.
But most of the time, at the very least, I can take a deep breath, say my “thank you” and “I accept it.” This might sound dumb and ridiculous, but I promise you it helps. When I actually verbalize the acceptance and the thank you, it helps even more! I can actually feel the stress and tension dissolve (not all of it, but some). So it’s okay, trust me, you’re not crazy to talk to yourself:
In the moment, so many things can seem so overwhelmingly bad, but often they really aren’t! Practice these strategies consistently, and I think you’ll find that you respond more positively to adversity. And you’ll stress less about the superficial issues in your life.
All of those stress responses to insignificant things add up! Your body can only deal with so much stress without harmful manifestations, no matter the source!
To be completely clear, I KNOW that I’ve been amazingly fortunate in my life. I’ve worked hard and experienced my share of injuries and stress, but I’ve always had everything I could possibly need and more, a loving and supportive family, and wonderful friends.
I have not experienced the true world-shattering moments that so many people have in their lives. I know that I can’t possibly understand some of the awful, traumatic things that happen to people. I’m definitely not suggesting that you can just brush those things off with willpower and some smiles.
There may be things that you can never accept or say thank you for. That’s life, and that’s real. I’m just hoping that some of these strategies can help you respond more constructively to the developments and events in your life. And consequently help you experience more gratitude and joy moving forward.