Friday, July 1, 2011
My Year of Gratitude: The Halfway Mark
At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to live in a more positive place. I wanted to focus on the good in my life, fix the fixable bad, and let the rest go. I thought one way to do this would be to focus more on the positive things in my life.
In the 1990s, I kept a gratitude journal of sorts. I would write in my journal and then at the end of that, write down a list of things for which I felt grateful each day. It helped me see that there were lots of things in my life to be grateful for, many of them very simple things. Over time as I journaled less, I also quit keeping the gratitude journal.
I found myself growing more negative and focused on the problems instead of the solutions in life and in my writing. Last Fall I decided I needed to do something to change this focus, so I started keeping my gratitude journal again.
By January 2011, I had some thoughts in place on what I wanted to do. So I made a plan.
I would begin each morning with a gratitude meditation. I would sit and simply think about all the things in my life about which I have to feel grateful every morning. Okay, good start, but it wasn't enough. I then decided to make my gratitude public to a certain extent. I decided that each morning I would pick one item from my gratitude meditation and make that my first Facebook status of the morning. I also decided to challenge myself because I wanted to go deeper than surface gratitude - the things we can be grateful for easily and without thought. So I decided every day for one year that my gratitude status would have to be unique. If it hit a theme from another day, it had to have something about it that made it different than the previous one. The other rule was that if I stated I was grateful for certain things that are easy to be grateful for, I had to state why. For example, I couldn't just say I was grateful for my house. I had to figure out why I was grateful for my house. I didn't do this to make being grateful difficult. I did this to push myself to really feel the gratitude and understand the positives behind the gratitude. I wanted to find deeper gratitude. I wanted to find gratitude that could serve as a foundation for positive living. I didn't want my gratitude meditation to become rote, a task to mark off a list, or to feel like a chore.
I also decided to resume my gratitude journal. Since I no longer journal the events of my day, this would be purely a list of things from that day for which I felt grateful. This list could include the mundane with no explanation. It could be as long or as short as I chose each day. It could be as silly or as serious as I wanted. It could be the place where I included the things I wanted to keep private.
Yesterday marked the halfway point - six months of beginning and ending each day with gratitude. I only missed six days posting a gratitude statement on Facebook. In addition, I did post the one for January 1st on January 2nd. Four of the days I missed, I was sick. I'm guessing that gratitude was in short supply, but I know I felt too bad to log on to Facebook. The other two days were a weekend when I opted to take a break from my computer. On those days, I did my gratitude meditation, I just didn't post anything.
So you may be wondering if this has helped me feel more positive. So far, yes it has. It helps me to remember what's good in my life even when life is difficult. Or maybe especially when life is difficult. When I begin my day by going to a place of gratitude, I find it easier to see good in the rest of my day. When I end my day with gratitude, it reminds me that no matter what trials I faced there was some good in there. I find I smile more easily and laugh a little more readily.
Now, I'm not turning into some kind of a pollyanna or little miss susie sunshine. I'm still me. I've not lost the analytical or the slightly cynical me. I'm not blinding myself to reality. I'm just no longer dwelling on what goes wrong as much. I feel more open to possibilities. Okay, I still question the hell out of them, but I'm more open to them. I'm allowing the good things to hang around without looking for some crushing blow to end them. I'm seeing beauty in more things. I'm accepting my life in the moment even while I strive to change the things I don't like.
Don't get me wrong there are days when I sit down to do my gratitude meditation and my mind goes completely blank. I can't think of a single thing about which I feel grateful. I stare at the wall in front of me. I close my eyes. I start going over events from the most recent days. And, nothing. The worst day I had was when I finally ended up being grateful that when I didn't feel grateful I knew I would later. Some days it almost feels too easy. I'm flooded with moments that elicit gratitude. And, some days I wake up with the things for which I'm grateful listing themselves before I'm even fully aware I'm awake. I rather like those days yet I'm appreciative of those days when gratitude is hard to find. It makes me appreciate the good that much more.
My focus on gratitude has helped my writing because it reminds me that I'm grateful for inspiration, for the words I write, for the readers who read my work, and for the buyers who buy my work. I'm grateful I get to share my experience with others and hopefully help them find something to make life a little better, even if it's just a smile or a moment of empathy for others.
So I'll check in again at the end of the year and let you know if my year of gratitude changed my life. In the meantime, I encourage you to give gratitude a try. If you do, let me know if it changes your life.
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted and four books of poetry. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.