It's that time of year again, I can feel it brewing.
That time when people see the month of November right around the corner and are preparing their facebook pages for an onslaught of gratitude. For the entire month of November, the time of year that graciously hosts the holiday of thanks, we see lists and "challenges" and daily reminders. Every social media outlet will be barraged with thanks. Instagram will do their photo challenge, facebook will be loaded with "Day 7 of things I'm grateful for...." ad nauseum. Our feeds will be full of thanks.
And that makes me so happy.
This has been a rough year for me, a rough 3 years in fact. And what I've learned, what I KNOW is that the only way I have survived it, and in fact THRIVED it, is through the practice of gratitude. Now hold up.
Before we start talking about "gratitude practice" I want to talk about that phrase. It's kind of "hip" right now to talk about. There are even apps for maintaining your "gratitude practice." Here's why I don't like that phrase. The words "gratitude" and "practice" simply don't belong together. Practice, by definition, is something you are working on. In yoga we say, "It's a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect." You try and try and try again and it may be ugly and it may not be "quite right" but it's yours and you keep plugging away at it. When we learn an instrument or a language or a sport we practice until we become proficient (some may even say we are striving for "perfection") on the subject.
That's not gratitude.
There's no "perfecting" in gratitude.
There's simply thanks.
You shouldn't have to think about it. You shouldn't have to work at it, it shouldn't be forced in even the smallest of ways.
Author Anne Lamott says there are really only three prayers we ever need in our lives.
She wrote a book about it. If you ask me, 2 of the 3 prayers are gratitude driven, right?
So I propose a change. (Imagine that) I propose that instead of calling it a "gratitude practice," we call it a "gratitude ritual." And here's why.
There have been gobs of studies that show, the act of replacing negativity with gratiude makes the brain better. I'm simplifying it of course. Shawn Achor, a Harvard smartie has dedicated his life to the study of how the brain responds to gratitude and posititivy. I love his Ted Talk which you can watch here. He's a funny charismatic guy who has some great things to say. It's 12 minutes long and his "Happiness challenge" will change your life. It did mine. 21 days. Do it.
The basic gist is, that if you replace negative emotions with positive ones, the positive ones will then override the negative ones. Even more simplified... if you're sitting around depressed thinking about how much your life sucks and all the things that are wrong in your life... then you take a few moments to focus on the things that are good, the things you can be grateful for... an amazing thing miraculously happens. You stop obsessing about the "wrong" in your life. You create space to breathe. You look back and gain perspective. You realize, you begin to internalize that things really in fact, are not that bad. And you start to find moments of happiness again.
I've had moments, no scratch that, days up on days in the last year where I couldn't get out of bed. It was so damn dark. Life was seemingly too hard to do. My emotions completely overcame me and the clouds that came with those emotions made my life black. The weight was more than I could bear on my shoulders and it was just easier to lay down and sleep. A lot.
I'm not entirely sure how my children survived this time but I'm grateful they did. (Oh! I can add that to my gratitude ritual)
During this time, I begrudgingly began my gratitude ritual. I didn't want to. I thought it was lame. Above that I simply could not think of anything to be thankful for. My life SUCKED. Everything about it SUCKED. There was absolutely NOTHING good about my life. NOTHING!!!!! It was so sucky I couldn't even get out of bed to care for my children so there mere thought of TRYING to "practice" gratitude seemed utterly absurd to me. I avoided it like the plague. I had notepads and journals all around me and even put all these fancy gratitude apps on my phone. But I still avoided it. The idea of "thinking" hurt my brain. The idea of trying to come up with things to be grateful for when my life was pure shit was just stupid.
So I did it anyway.
I thought I would literally die trying to come up with 3 things I was grateful for.
And here's what happened.
I started writing, and I couldn't stop. My list kept going. Suddenly, I had 10 things on my list. But I wasn't done. I added 2 more. And 3 more, until the person who thought her life was total garbage suddenly had a cornucopia of things to be thankful for.
And when I was done..... I had a smile on my face. And I got out of bed. And I showered. And I took care of my children and I took care of myself and I put one foot in front of the other and I climbed my way out of the hole using my gratitude ritual as my rope.
This is not a "practice." This is something that we must make as essential to our lives as brushing our teeth and filling our cars with gas. This is OUR fuel. Our human fuel. This is what keeps us going.
I toyed with calling it my "gratitude routine." And while that would apply and certainly work, I like the word ritual because rituals are things we love. Rituals are things that hold importance to us. Rituals are things that are woven into the very fabric of our lives and become a part of who we are. Gratitude and thankfulness must be that for us.
So here's the challenge.
Right here, right now, this moment.
Choose your social media outlet of choice and start right this minute. SHARE IT. Because the more YOU do it, the more other people will do it. When people start to witness what an amazing effect the power of gratitude is having on YOUR life, they will want to have some of it too. Posting your gratitude on social media isn't braggy or annoying, it's a gift. There are some people who are so very lost in the darkness of their own lives that they can't see. Give them the light. Show them the way, lead them out of the hole with YOUR gratitude ritual.
Don't wait until November 1. Start today. Start RIGHT NOW. October 22. Instead of 30 days in November, make it 40 days in October AND November. And then get crazy. Keep the momentum going.... make this a RITUAL.
I don't care what this looks like for you. This is yours. Some people need to write it down with a pen and paper in a journal. Some have messy scribbly notebooks. Some have apps on their phone. Some have tiny scraps of paper thrown into a "gratitude jar" at the side of their bed. It doesn't matter what this looks like for you. What matters is that you do it. What matters is that giving thanks becomes as natural to you as breathing.
There is something to be thankful for in every moment of your life.
Hate your job? Be thankful you have one and you can pay for the roof over your head.
Broke? Can't pay your bills? Be thankful that you have a car that is fully paid for. Be thankful that you already have a gallon of milk in your fridge. Be thankful that the heat is still on. Be thankful that you have running water.
Lonely? Be thankful for who you DO have in your life. Be thankful for yourself. Be thankful for the gift of your own company. Learn to enjoy it.
Broken heart? Be thankful you tried for something. Be thankful you gave it your all. Be thankful you have a heart to be broken. Show gratitude for the lesson you are learning because it will make you stronger and better than you ever were before. (Really, it will, trust me)
Just start. Just sit down and do it. The next thing you know you'll have 15 things on your list and you'll be walking around with a smile on your face and that smile isn't just improving your life, it's improving the lives of those around you and THAT is something to be thankful for.
The doorway to gratitude. A 40 day challenge to creating a ritual of thanks in your life.
A 40 day challenge to creating CHANGE in your life.
I have this fantastic app on my phone. It's called Gratitude! and I love it because you can share your posts, add pictures, get inspirational quotes (no such thing as too many inspirational quotes!) and of course, journal and look back on your gratitude. I would like to share one day in the life of my gratitude.
First of all, I had a busy day! Second of all, I LOVE that I had to log in TWICE and list more gratitude. LOVE LOVE LOVE that.
The important thing I really want to share here is that look at how simple some of these things are. Many of the items on my list are simple conversations (almost all of which took place via text I might add). Moments. Feelings. Seconds. And by the way, who in the hell is grateful for hot sweaty yardwork?
Someone who spent far too many days in bed, that's who.
As I was preparing to write this post, I realized something utterly amazing.
Some exciting an awesome things are happening in my life. I think it's safe to say that the ship has found it's way back on the right path. There are a lot of things contributing to that, which I won't get into now. But when I look back I realize that it all started right around the beginning of September. And if you look at the date on my gratitude app, you'll see that on September 6 my gratitude practice.... became a gratitude...