This morning, I woke up late, bolted out the door, almost got hit by a scooter as I dashed across the street to work, and arrived sweaty, disoriented, and uncharacteristically late. A lovely series of unfortunate events to start off the week. In the midst of all this, I was kicking myself for missing my alarm, annoyed at the driver who almost hit me, and feeling anything but grateful. So, naturally, I thought today would be a perfect time to touch on the idea of gratitude.
We all have a time to give thanks penciled into our yearly schedules, for most of us it falls on the fourth Thursday of November, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. But beyond that, I find that it’s all too easy to forget to cultivate gratefulness. We get so caught up in our daily routines and stressors, that before we know it, life becomes a barrage of inconveniences rather than a stream of pleasantries. For most of us, life isn’t one or the other, but a mix. What you focus on is what will take over. We all have rough days, but when those days stretch into weeks or even months, it can feel like things are never going to look up. That’s when it’s easy to focus on the bad and forget about the positive streaks.
I read a great quotation the other day: “If you run into a jerk in the morning, you ran into a jerk. If you run into jerks all day, maybe you’re the jerk”. Inconveniences and less-than-positive encounters happen, but the meaning we ascribe to situations also colors them significantly. Going through life with an open disposition and grateful mindset can alter the way you interpret your day to day.
If you are skeptical about this, try the following exercise: take two minutes every day to sit down and write down three things you’re grateful for. That’s it. Try it for a month and see if you feel a change in mindset. I started doing this back in October and when I skip a week I start to feel myself slipping back into a mindset that reinforces whatever mild inconveniences or upsetting situations I encountered that day rather than focusing on the things that are going well. I can feel the cynics rolling their eyes, but take it from a fellow skeptic—it’s the single easiest way to improve your mood, outlook, and overall peace of mind.
Someone asked me the other day, “Don’t you run out of things to write down?” No, in fact, I try to approach this by focusing on the little things. For example: being grateful that I ran into a friend and had a nice conversation, or appreciating nice weather. You don't have to write down "big ticket" things, in fact the things that make my day rarely are. By reminding myself of the small, positive moments, I reinforce the good and devalue the rest.
If the writing aspect of the exercise is dissuading you from trying it out, forget about writing. Even taking a minute or two to think of things to be grateful for can have the same effect. That’s exactly what I did before walking into my class this morning—I paused, took a moment to breathe, and mentally reminded myself of three things I had to be grateful for:
1) I could’ve woken up much later.
2) The scooter didn’t hit me.
3) I have a job to go to.
Things are okay, after all.