Developing an Attitude of Gratitude
I’m a pessimist. A worrier. A whiner. I tend to see the glass as half empty. And lately, it seems like a big black cloud has been hovering over my head. Sometimes I feel like life’s just not FAIR. (That’s me pouting and stomping my foot like a 2 year old, having a little pity party, in case you couldn’t tell).
But things could be much worse, and I need to work on my attitude. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” Attitude is (almost) everything, apparently. And my attitude needs some serious improving. It’s so easy to get caught up in every little daily irritation, every loss, every complication, every event that doesn’t turn out as expected or planned. I don’t want to dwell on the negative anymore. I don’t want to become that person (or have I already?) that always has a list of complaints to share with you whenever you ask how they are doing.
When you get caught up in all that is wrong, you fail to see all of the things that are right and good about life. I’m making an effort now to have an attitude of gratitude. But how exactly do you develop an attitude of gratitude? (This is just a little guide and some reminders for myself as much as everyone else.)
Count your blessings. I don’t necessarily mean counting them literally, although I suppose keeping a numbered running list of things to be grateful for could be helpful. I mean that you need to somehow document all of your blessings. I choose to do this via a Gratitude Journal where I record 3-5 things to be thankful for each day. For a peek at mine, check out this Gratitude Journal post. You could also draw them or create a collage. On the good days, this will be an amazingly easy task. On the bad days, coming up with 3-5 things to be grateful for might be a little trickier. Perhaps your list will include things like: “I didn’t yell today. I got dinner on the table for my family. So thankful to have a car to run errands!” Sometimes we take some of the basics (food, shelter, clothing) for granted. If you’re looking for inspiration for your gratitude journal, check out 14,000 Things to be Happy About, by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I’ve had this book for about 15 years (now there’s even an updated version with 14,000 new things), and I can always find something here to be thankful for!
Give thanks. When was the last time you let your family and friends know just how much they mean to you? It is so easy to take them for granted. I’m definitely guilty of this. Maybe it’s time to send them a note, an email, or give them a phone call. Or let them know in person. Isn’t it odd how we are more likely to say thank you to a stranger at the grocery store than we are to our own family members? It’s time to make sure those closest to you know just how much you appreciate all that they do.
Help others. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve volunteered my time (unless you count being a room mom), but I used to volunteer several times a month at both Dress for Success and the Houston SPCA. Those afternoons of helping women pick out a suit that would make them feel confident for that much-needed job interview and those mornings spent caring for and loving on those dogs and cats waiting for their forever homes were some of the most fulfilling moments before I became a mother. I know I don’t have that kind of time to commit in this season of my life, but I need to do something to help others. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my passion for art with the kids and mommies in our Art Playgroup, perhaps I could run with that somehow. I’ve also been thinking about volunteering as a patient advocate after our less-than-pleasant experience. Think about what you can do to help others and take the first step to make it happen.
Keep things in perspective. It’s so easy to forget the big picture and to get wrapped up in the little irritations of day-to-day living. Cranky because you had to wait for an hour at the dentist’s office? Be thankful that we have such wonderful dental and health care available, the advances in medical technology, and that you have health insurance. Frustrated because the summer camp you really wanted to send your child to is already full? Be thankful for your wonderful neighborhood parks and pools, local libraries and other free and inexpensive forms of entertainment nearby. I read somewhere that if your family income is $10,000 a year, you are wealthier than 84% of the world. If your family income is $50,000 or more a year, you make more than 99% of the world. Wow! That makes me feel so fortunate for the opportunities available to me and mine. Time to stop complaining about what I don’t have.
Be aware when you compare. I’m tempted to say “Don’t make comparisons at all“, but I think remembering the statistic above and realizing how much better off you have it than many people (a roof over your head? clean water?) can be helpful in developing your attitude of gratitude. It can also be useful to seek inspiration in the lives of others, particularly those who have similar values to your own. But there will always be someone who has a bigger house, more money, a nicer car, a better body, or a “perfect” marriage that you long for. Those types of comparisons can lead to stress, envy, and feelings of inferiority and insecurity (For more on insecurity, check out Beth Moore’s new book, So Long Insecurity).
Create a Pessimism Prevention Plan to refer to in case of “emotional emergency.” When something goes wrong, whether it is big or little, you need to have an emotional plan of action in place. This is your Pessimism Prevention Plan. For the bigger things, like the loss of a loved one or divorce, it’s natural to be upset. It’s okay to grieve. But when little things go wrong (even if those little things don’t seem little), this is when those of us who are natural pessimists or worriers need to have a strategy in place to prevent a downward spiral of negative thinking. A Pessimism Prevention Plan, if you will. This might include referring back to previous entries in your gratitude journal (or maybe carrying around some of your favorite blessings in your wallet), re-reading this blog post, signing up for some additional hours at the animal shelter, or a phone call or coffee with a particularly optimistic and uplifting family member or friend.
Live in the present. It’s hard to enjoy all of the blessings of today if you’re reliving the past or worrying about the future. Try to focus on right now.
Do you have any additional tips for developing an attitude of gratitude? How do you stay positive?
Today’s gratitude journal…I’m thankful for:
- pleasant summer evenings in the backyard
- lavender cut fresh from the garden
- good friends who live right down the street
- a brand new box of 64 crayons
- the funny questions of a 2 year old