I think we all have that friend who constantly has a smile on their face, even if the world feels like it’s ending. It’s just easy for them to remain cheerful, and they stay positive no matter what life throws at them. I have a few of these special people in my life, and when I’m around them I always find myself wondering - how is this possible? What kind of magical powers do they possess? I'm naturally more of a negative/pessimistic person, so I'm in awe of these kinds of people. They can remain grounded and happy, even when we’re in the same crappy situation - like they see the glass half full while I stress about how it’s half empty. Whomp whomp.
So, what’s their secret? Well, the more I learn about myself (and listen to podcasts and read hippy-dippy books), the most I realize it's simply gratitude!
People who possess this awesome sustained happiness are grateful for the good that they have in their lives, no matter how small. Because they are happy with what they already have, they’re not constantly craving “bigger and better” or comparing themselves to others. They can appreciate the hand that life has dealt them (even with the negative cards) because they’ve realized: They may not have it all, but they DO have enough.
When we’re young, it's so much easier to be grateful for what we have. I’m sure many of us had parents who made us look at the leftover food on our plates and told us to be thankful because there were children in the world going to bed hungry at night. Even in our innocence (or perhaps because of it), we understood the concept. Fast-forward to adulthood, however, and the "Negative Nancy" inside many of us tends to take over. There are bills to pay, chores to do, errands to run - these mundane tasks are endless, and we find ourselves counting down the days until our next vacation and break from real life. We forget to appreciate what a true blessing our “boring” reality is. It’s a privilege to earn enough money to pay the bills, to be healthy enough to have the energy to walk through the aisles of the grocery store, and blessed enough to have a car to drive to the post office, Target, or wherever else life brings you.
I’m as guilty as the next person of failing to remember how much I have to be grateful for. While I’ve gotten a lot better and remind myself daily to count my blessings, I still have days when I want to crawl into bed and shut the world out because I just can’t deal. But, honestly, that never helps. It was hard at first, but over time, I’ve learned how to consciously practice gratitude to get myself out of a funk. A sign on my bedroom dresser is a great reminder too. It's one of the first things I see when I wake up in the morning.
Here are some more of my tips to for practicing gratitude even when I’m frustrated, upset, and disheartened. They really help me, and I hope they help you too!
Pay attention to your thoughts - and your words
This is a big one. We manifest what we think - and what we say. Automatically jumping to negative thoughts often leads to negative, perhaps hurtful words, especially when we’re talking to or about someone else. I firmly believe that practicing gratitude begins first and foremost with our internal voice. When I feel and hear myself becoming Negative Nancy (Mal calls her "Terrible Tina"), I make it a point to stop and reframe the way I’m thinking to reflect positivity. Annoyed that I’m stuck in traffic? I’m grateful that I didn’t have an accident. Frustrated that my flight is delayed? Now I have a few extra minutes to grab an iced coffee or browse for a good book. Once I turn my thoughts around, more often than not, so does my day.
Focus on the “right nows” of the present, not the “what ifs” of the future
Much of my anxiety is caused by focusing on things that could potentially go wrong in the future. I’m guilty of lying awake at night with anxious, racing thoughts about the “what ifs” of tomorrow. One thing that has helped has been consciously taking a moment to remember where I am and what I am doing in the here and now. If it's nighttime, I focus on getting as much rest as possible for the next day, no matter what it brings. I’ve found that maintaining mindfulness even with an uncertain future has led me to feel far more grateful about the blessings I currently have - a warm bed, a loving family, an adorable (and super weird) dog - and it helps the anxiety go away.
Give yourself a “friendly” reminder
Nothing gets me out of Terrible Tina-mode faster than a chat with Mal or a good friend. Sometimes, when I’m crying “woe is me,” it helps to step outside of myself - literally and figuratively. I’ll drive to a nearby cafe (or Target) or leave a WhatsApp message for a girlfriend so we can talk. These things are tiny reminders that the world is still moving forward, and I am too. Chatting with another person gives me an outsider’s perspective on what I’m going through - not only does it provide helpful advice on how to handle the situation, but it also helps me to appreciate how great I really have it in the here and now. And when the time comes, I’m more than happy to lend an ear as well! A fresh perspective - whether it's changing your environment or talking to someone else - can do wonders for feeling grateful and counting your blessings.
I once read that if you encourage yourself to smile, your mood will be lifted. Fake it until you make it! 🙂 I feel the same way about gratitude. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to see the bright side automatically - others, me included, have to work at it. But practicing gratitude is time well spent because we will always have ups and downs - it’s how we get through the tough times that really define who we are as a person. Being negative adds nothing to the issue at hand - it actually makes it worse, which I've learned the hard way many times in the past. Perhaps practicing gratitude won’t automatically improve our hard situations, but it will lift our spirits and sometimes that's all you need to keep pushing when the going gets tough!