I walked into the kitchen for a quick break, recently, and my 13 year-old son looked up from his homework with sad, puppy-dog eyes. I suggested a fresh air break, even offered to go for a walk. Much to my surprise, he took me up on it! I guess it was time for a longer break than anticipated. When a spontaneous opportunity to date my kids magically appears, far be it from me to miss out!
We headed to the local park, dog and scooter in tow. It’s been years since I’ve sat on the ledge and watched him play on the ‘jungle gym,’ as evidenced by his enormous size advantage over the other kids on the structure. He looked like a giant -- hanging, swinging…playing. I sat in awe, amazed at how quickly time flies, impressed with his agility, frankly proud that he still wanted to be there with me. I enjoyed a moment of pure gratitude. And then I smiled to myself. Of course! With gratitude came inspiration -- the introduction to this article.
For most of us, gratitude is there all the time, waiting on the sidelines, looking for opportunities to celebrate joy. We understand, intellectually, that as long as we have love in our lives, we are truly blessed. The trick is, emotionally, to recognize those moments of gratitude, and actively appreciate them. This essay offers 7 ways to begin to re-connect with all that you are grateful for in your life.
The older I get, the better I understand that gratitude is the root of a peaceful life. When I keep gratitude in the front of mind, things tend to flow more smoothly. I shoulder the inevitable bumps in the road with a kind of ease and grace that feels calm. Acceptance reigns. Life is good.
When my gratitude loses its foothold, it is often replaced by a kind of negative, defeated helplessness. I suspect I’m in good company, here, as our culture seems to have many idioms representing that perspective. “There is no rest for the weary. “ Or, “no good deed goes unpunished.” We wear the mantle of victim, and woe all that is done “to” us. What an energy drain!
Now on any given day we are likely to fluctuate wildly from positive to negative and – if we are lucky – back again. That is typical. It’s the ratio between the two that warrants our attention.
A few years ago, I was falling into that negative energy place all too frequently. Life wasn’t tragic, it was just hard. Negativity had been creeping into my psyche, seemingly innocent enough until it had slowly taken over like kudzu squeezing the life out of all that lies in its path. Exhausted and overwhelmed, no amount of self-talk was enough to counter what felt like a constant barrage of negative external forces. I became aware of a corresponding decrease in my positivity.
Tearing up at the slightest provocation for days, I finally wept on my husband’s shoulder, confessing, “I’m just not handling things well at all.” To his credit, he chose to play the strong, silent type – he neither confirmed nor denied my assertion. He just held me while I released weeks (months?) of built-up tension and negativity.
Almost immediately, I felt much better – lighter, more optimistic. Nothing much had changed externally. Internally, I’d reconnected to the one thing that has always enabled me to turn the tide: gratitude. No single issue has better helped me change my life for the good – and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
When it comes to dramatically shifting perspective and using gratitude to pull myself out of a really negative space, here are some strategies that work for me:
1. Awareness that I’ve gotten mired in the negative is key. I have to get enough perspective to see that things have spiraled downward. Once I’m aware, I can only wallow in it for so long before I get annoyed with myself and start to turn things around.
2. I start thinking – quite actively – about what makes me grateful or what brings me joy. It can be really little things, like the purple fabric on my favorite chair, or big things like my kids clearing the dinner dishes without being asked. I look for it everywhere I can, as often as possible. (Some of my coaching clients even keep a “gratitude journal”!)
3. I focus on my health. Maybe I need exercise, or sleep, or to pay attention to eating a little healthier. When I remember to be grateful for the health I do have, it’s easier to take better care of myself.
4. I find tiny bits of time for things I know I love. It might be five minutes of yoga, or a walk outside for a moment of fresh air, or a pause to smile at a loved one doing something mundane. It’s not the length of time that matters, it’s the act of doing something for myself.
5. It may sound corny, but I play the “it could be worse” game – it doesn’t need to last for 18 holes, but a few short rounds can be really encouraging.
6. I choose to fall in love with my kids and/or spouse all over again. When I think about what it is about them that makes me smile, well, that makes me smile. It’s hard to stay negative with an authentic smile.
7. I take a day off (it sounds crazy to do this with deadlines pending, but usually a break makes for much more effective work), or an evening, or an hour – little respites can feel decadent, and quite effective when I feel like I’m doing something for myself, no matter what!
Negativity can be so powerful that people are said to need five positives to outweigh a single negative correction. Give it an inch, and it’ll take a mile. As an adult, I can’t wait for five accolades to fall from on high, balancing bad news from a doctor, or deadlines too numerous to meet. I if you don’t WANT to constantly complain when life gets hard, take charge of the 5:1 ratio. Counter the negative vortex with positive messages for yourself. I suggest you give it a try. What do you have to gain?