What I learned from 365 Days of Gratitude…
“There’s always something to be grateful for” – a constant phrase in every personal development course I took, every book I read and quite frankly in my daily news feed.
I’ve always felt fairly grateful. I have a great life, I am blessed in many ways. Life hasn’t always been easy… I wasn’t born with a silver spoon nor have I had it easy in life. In fact, I recently realized my mindset about everything was that you have to work really really hard to get anything. And I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I worked myself into exhaustion and oblivion for at least 1.5 decades. White space, down time, meditation we simply not in my vocab… yes, they’re lovely idea’s, but if you REALLY want something you MUST just go make it happen, work for it.
And what that got me was a comfortable life, financially secure and the ability to boast “I’ve worked for everything I have” and wore it like a of badge of honour. And I am proud of all of that. I am very proud of my work ethic… the ability to work for months on end, 18 hour days, working for pretty much nothing as I paid off my student loans in 1.5 years, as I saved for and build my home with my husband, and as I started my business. No it wasn’t easy, and I recognize that few people are truly willing to sacrifice what they want right now for what they want overall.
I have never needed a lot of material things… I like vacations, I like knowing my bills are paid and that I can pay my mortgage, take care of my dogs, donate some money to charity, travel. But I don’t need the fancier car or the $1500 purse. I have been fortunate, but luck had less to do with it than sheer force and will to make things happen.
Eventually, with those beliefs and hours, there comes a breaking point. That point came for me, when I could no longer pull the hours without it costing me my health and my quality of life. I also realized I had no life outside of work and that’s not really what I wanted long term anymore.
As I began a journey of healing my adrenals, resting, taking more care of myself (funny enough I believed smashing up the weight rack and cardio and training for fitness events was self care haha) I began to hear people talk of practising gratitude. I found myself thinking “I am a grateful person”. I was grateful for the people who put their faith in me as their coach, for my family who always understood and helped where they could, for my husband who was always there to lend a hand, for the opportunities, jobs and friends that I had met along the way. I am grateful, aren’t I?
As I began to understand gratitude more and more I started to understand it’s like the biggest secret the universe has to offer… gratitude turns what we have into enough. Hmmm…something to feel about, perhaps?
Sure I was grateful but I was also easily frustrated, easily angered, always BUSY. I never appreciated the moment I was in because I was always thinking of what else I had to do. I have had moments of complete and utter blank spaces… conversations, dinners, events, places that I had no recollection of… something seemed vaguely familiar about it all when people would talk about things, but I couldn’t quite grasp it…I have come to realize it’s because I wasn’t really there. My body was, but my mind was clearly elsewhere.
During Christmas of 2014 a dear friend gifted me with a gratitude jar and blank notes. I decided to do it. She made it really easy for me to do it. In the mornings, I would wake up and go to the jar and write something down that I wa grateful for… sometimes it was hard! I wrote running water once… because I was in a friggin foul mood over low water pressure and I was fuming until a thought popped into my head that more than 50% of the world does NOT have running water. So I sat and wrote “I’m so grateful that I don’t have to walk 30 minutes to get water, lug it back, boil it to take a bath or have drinking water.” For real.
Another morning, once again, in a foul mood, I wrote “I’m grateful for my bad mood for it shows me the beauty of the good ones”… deep. Another was “I’m so grateful for the women who fought the battles before me so I can work, vote, make the choices I can today”.
One morning I realized “F*&^ I”m in a bad mood every morning, what can happen over night that can make you cranky when you went to bed happy and wake up cranky every bloody day?” I would get an answer to that question in 2015 (all the “stuff” you’re not dealing with is being processed while you’re sleeping…). And gratitude became something that I started practising every night as well. I would think about the good things that happened during the day and go to bed thinking positively instead of about all the things I didn’t get to or didn’t deal with or what I had to do tomorrow.
On New Year’s Eve 2015 I opened my gratitude jar. My husband had started contributing to it as well so it was fun to read his. We were mostly grateful for the little things… water, our careers, our home, our dogs, our friends, our family, and even the shitty things… “I’m grateful I don’t live in a war torn country” – maybe not a little thing to some, but certainly something we take for granted in Canada, I think. “I’m grateful for the internet, even when it’s really slow, because I could still need dictionaries” (see, bad mood turned good right there!), “I’m grateful for our vet who cares so much about our dogs” “I’m so grateful for my clients” “I’m so grateful for my job” “I’m so grateful that we’re good with money” “I’m so grateful that I can afford a new car” “I’m so grateful for food, I love food” “I’m so grateful for family who is there for us when we need them” “I’m so grateful that we don’t have extreme weather like tornado’s and earthquakes”…
As we read the notes, we realized it was all the small stuff that we were grateful for. I was a very different person at the end of the year than I was in the beginning… the notes changed as the dates went further into the year… they were less forced, less angry, more genuine. And that was also how I was… I had slowed down a lot… softened… I was happier, quieter, calmer, more forgiving, and genuinely more appreciative of everything, but mostly I noticed I could find the silver lining in almost every situation…
“I’m so grateful we were hacked and stolen from because it taught us more diligence and security. It tightened up our budget and we’re less wasteful”. “I’m so grateful for the extra help from the garage today, they went above and beyond” (on our 3rd break down in 2 weeks), “I’m so grateful for the amazing nurses and doctors while my husband was having surgery” “I’m so grateful for the care my wife is giving me during and after my surgery”…
In the midst of some serious, scary, life threatening, costly stuff, I realized we weren’t caught up in the shittiness of it. Life happens… bad things happen to good people… there’s not always an explanation for WHY, but when you can find the silver lining in any moment of any day, especially the really bad stuff, then you know your attitude has completely changed. Take the lesson and move on… I can’t remember the last time we spoke of the crappy stuff that happened in 2015…perhaps immediately after they happened.
In my 365 days of gratitude I learned that working hard isn’t the only way to get somewhere… in fact, I learned that slowing down actually makes you go faster because when you’re present in what you’re doing and taking time for self care you have more drive and focus. I learned that meditation is not only fun but beneficial for a chaotic mind. I learned to enjoy nature like I never have before. I learned to enjoy silence. I learned to enjoy presence. I learned to enjoy the company of others. I learned to love “white space” something that I could never have in my calendar. Now I have a lot of white space and I want even more! I learned to enjoy a cup of coffee. I learned to enjoy the bliss of nothingness, a concept I once scorned others for :/
There was a time in my life that I one upped others on my busy-ness. I lived for proving myself. But as I practised more and more gratitude I began to relax, I began to not need to prove anything to anyone. Now if someone says to me “it must be nice to not work” (a passive aggressive “dig”), I say “I’m so grateful to manage my own schedule”… in the past I would have ranted about how much I work and just because I’m off for an hour in the middle of the day… I’m working til… blah blah blah… now I have nothing to prove… because I really am grateful that I no longer work as much as I used to or that I need to prove myself. I know what I do and I know how hard I still work and that’s all that matters.
What I’m mostly grateful for is that I no longer feel the need to justify or prove myself for any reason. People really will have their opinions and judgements and they aren’t going to understand it anymore just because I scream it louder or justify it… “gratitude turns what we have into enough” and it really made me enough, for myself, the best present 2015 brought me.
It all started with one note “I’m so grateful for my friend Christa for giving me this jar”… the more we are grateful the more we find to be grateful for and that one thing alone can change our world. It certainly changed mine.
I’m looking forward to another 365 days of gratitude for 2016.
PS… do you practise gratitude? I’d love to hear about your experience with practising or if you plan to start!