A Month of Gratitude – Update

Epicurus

For the month of July my Healthy Habit was gratitude.  Each day I focused on the things in my life for which I am grateful, and I did my best to post about it everyday, but I missed a few here and there.  This habit has been, by far, my favorite and my most successful.  After just a few days in, I found that my thinking had changed, and that I was much more optimistic.  When things were good, I took the time to recognize that I was fortunate that they were.  And when situations were bad, I found that looking for something, anything, to be grateful for in the situation, made the bad not so horrible as I thought at first glance.

I read a lot about gratitude, and there seemed to be a lot of blog posts out there that talked about it during the month.  It was inspirational to read what others think about gratitude and what it means to them.  What gratitude means to me is thankfulness, being able to count my blessings and notice the small things that I often overlook, or take for granted.  It means shifting focus from what I am lacking to what I already have, which really is an abundance.  It means learning to be thankful for all the things that I am given, and giving up the sense of entitlement that I have often felt.  Gratitude means changing my perspective, finding the good in every situation.

Research has shown that the practice of gratitude improves the quality of life.  It makes people happier, reduces stress and encourages simplicity.  I found all of those things true as I took time to acknowledge the things for which I am thankful.

If I were to teach someone how to live in gratitude, these are the things that I would emphasize:

  • Be intentional.  Look for things to be grateful for.  Depending on the day and the situation, this can be easy or difficult.  When things are going well, and life is good, it is obviously easier to see things in a positive way.  Finding gratitude in difficult situations is harder, but there is always something there to be thankful for.  My AA sponsor has had me practice this for as long as I can remember – whenever I am down, angry, upset, or depressed, she has me come up with at least a few things that I have to be grateful for.  Doing so has never made my situations worse, they have always gotten better when I take time to be grateful.
  • Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  We live in a society that values ‘more’ and ‘better’.  More money, more friends, better homes, better cars, more things.  Focusing on those things keeps us from being thankful for what we have.  For the past month, I have paid attention to the fact that while I don’t have a long list of friends, or a huge bank account, I do have quality, intimate relationships that I wouldn’t give up for anything, and I have enough money for the things I really need.  Keeping those things in mind keeps me from suffering from unnecessary worry about what I don’t have.
  • Be humble.  Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.  A humble heart finds thankfulness and satisfaction in the gifts that it already has.  It demands less from others and from life itself.
  • Write it down.  When I write my gratitude list (which I will continue to do in my journal, now that July is over), and I can go back and look at what I was grateful for yesterday, last week, last month, it reminds me of what I have to be grateful for today.  There is also something about writing it down, or typing it, that gives it more meaning…it substantiates the feeling.  Give it a try, I promise this is true.

I have been amazed at the difference that the simple act of being grateful can make.  Overall, when I practice gratitude, I am happier and I worry less, I realize that I have everything I need, and I am able to give more of myself to others.  All it takes is finding a little bit of thanks in every situation.

gratitude2

Gratitude – July 10

Crazy

It was a crazy busy day at work today.  It was full of putting out fires and not getting any of my “real” wok done.   All day long, I was thinking about what I was going to write about tonight.  For the longest time this morning I was thinking that by the end of the day I was going to end up having a post that read, “today I am grateful that the day is over.”  But it turns out that the day gave me many things to be grateful for.  Here are some of the highlights of my day:

  • One of my very good friends that used to be a work study at the school where I work, came in today to finish up some things she needed to do for graduation.   It was great to have her there to catch up with between the chaotic moments.  I am so proud of her for graduating and already getting a job in her field.
  • Today was the last day of classes for students for this term and that meant it was potluck day!  All three of my meals today came from students, and they were all great.  I admit I did some stress eating, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
  • I got home early enough to watch the season 2 finale of Orange is the New Black without falling asleep in the middle of it.
  • I found out that our friend that is detoxing from heroin (at home, with no medical supervision – his decision) is past the worst of it and was up and around and eating today.
  • I made plans to do yoga with a friend tomorrow evening, and to have lunch with another friend on Saturday.  I am looking forward to both.
  • Lastly, I am grateful that tomorrow is Friday!

I hope that you all had a great Thursday, and that tonight you take some tome to remember all of the things that you are thankful for.

********************************************************

Please comment with your gratitude for the day.

Please comment with your gratitude for the day.

Gratitude – July 5

tumblr_mwtdhrtSHg1qgy8cmo1_500After just a few days of sharing my gratitude here, I have to say that I think this might be my favorite Healthy Habit so far.  All throughout the day I am conscious of the things for which I’m grateful.  It is often little things, like taking an early nap today, helping my husband make pies this evening, or talking to my good friend who just returned from out of town.  But being conscious of my gratitude also brings to mind much bigger things.  Tonight as Austin, Benjamin, and I had dinner, the conversation rolled around to the book of Revelation in the Bible (a nice change from the usual dinner conversation with the two guys in my life, which usually has to do with some type of bodily function).  It was an interesting, hopeful discussion in which Benjamin heartily participated – he is a preacher’s kid after all, even if he is only 9.   When dinner was over, I began to think about something that I am grateful for, that fits into the ‘bigger’ category.

I am beyond grateful for my faith.  When I look back at the person I was before I knew God, I am truly amazed that I was able to make sense of anything.  Or maybe that’s just it…I wasn’t able to.  I know that not having any spiritual direction or faith in anything contributed greatly to my alcoholic drinking.  I was missing something.  I was looking to fill myself up with something that was going to ‘make sense’ and make me feel purposeful, something to give me meaning.  Why I thought vodka and wine were going to do that, I don’t know.  But I do know that I was conscious at the time that I was lacking something important, something that I couldn’t find, so I willingly dived into the bottle.  I didn’t find was I was looking for there though, and as things got worse, I knew that I had to find some way to stop.

I ended up at a Christian treatment center (they took my insurance) and after my panic and fear settled down, I started to pay attention to what I heard about God and faith.  I listened to the employees of the rehab, most of whom were in recovery themselves.  They had what I wanted and that was sobriety; but it was also faith in God.  When I left there, I definitely felt like I had been introduced to something I wanted more of.  I believed wholeheartedly in Step 2 – I was only going to find sanity by trusting God.  And I did trust Him.  I had found faith; maybe just a little, but it was there.

That’s the really short version of how I started to believe and trust God.  Since then, my faith has become ingrained in me.  It gives me comfort when bad things happen, or when I am feeling down.  It gives me confidence if I start to feel inadequate.  It gives me hope when I feel hopeless.  It gives me purpose and meaning when I feel worthless.  My faith lets me know that I am loved, even when I feel unlovable.  It lets me know that I am not alone, even when I feel lonely.  It lets me know that I am forgiven, even when I am guilty.  It lets me feel pride rather than shame.

Those are all things that I never thought I would have.  But now, miraculously, I do.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

*******************************************************

thankful-what

Healthy Habit #7 – A Month of Gratitude

gratitude

It’s July 2nd, so it’s time for a new Healthy Habit.   At the beginning of the year, I decided that rather than making resolutions I knew I wouldn’t keep, I would try to develop some new healthy habits that would, hopefully, replace the not-so-healthy ones that I have.  For this month, I had one all picked out, I was even going to write a post about it yesterday.  For some reason, though, I procrastinated and didn’t get to it yesterday.  Ok, honesty here, I was watching the last season of Dexter yesterday and couldn’t be bothered with writing.  What a disappointing series finale, by the way.  But I digress…

I’m actually glad for the procrastination because I’ve changed my mind about July.  After reading several blog posts about choosing to be positive and grateful, I’ve decided that Healthy Habit #7 will be gratitude.  I wrote about gratitude a year ago, and it has yet to become a habit, a go-to way of thinking for me, so I think it’s a good time to revisit it.

I try my hardest to recognize all of the things I have to be thankful for, and when things are going well, I’m pretty successful at seeing them and expressing my gratitude.  But when things get tough, like they did last week, I often have a difficult time remembering that there is always something to be thankful for.  Hindsight being 20/20, I can find things to be appreciative of after the fact, but in the moment that is usually the furthest thing from my mind.

When I choose a healthy habit, I do a lot of reading.  I always have an idea about the benefits of whatever it is, but seeing it in writing makes it more real for me.  I found an article in Psychology Today that talks about the positive results that can occur from living a life a gratitude.   Here are some of their findings:

• Gratitude reminds you of what truly matters in life. It is all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day stresses and take for granted the things that are important to us. If you remind yourself each day of the things you are thankful for, you begin to focus more on the important and less on the superficial.

• Gratitude makes your problems seem less daunting and more manageable. We all have issues from time to time with work, family and friends. However, these issues often get blown out of proportion, causing stress and misery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90 percent of all illness and disease may be stress-related. Try to be thankful for the challenges in your life, and the problems won’t seem so bad. For example, the next time you have a problem at work, you may want to remind yourself of how thankful you are to have a job in the first place. Say thank you and be well.

• Gratitude always comes back to you. When you begin to be thankful for what you have, you also begin to be more thankful toward other people. This cultivates positive feelings, and as the saying goes, “what goes around comes around.” In addition, the more you focus on the best in life, the more you will attract the best in life.

In recovery circles, there is a lot of emphasis put on gratitude.  It’s the topic of many meetings, and I will admit that when I am not feeling like my most optimistic self, I have groaned and rolled my eyes when someone suggests that the discussion be about gratitude.  But, continuing to be honest here, I always feel happier and more positive at the end of the meeting than I did at the beginning.  I have found personally, that when I stop and think of just two or three things that I have to be thankful for, I can improve my attitude by leaps and bounds, even in the worst of situations.  My sponsor has had me do that several times, and it works!

All of that said, walking down the path to grateful-land isn’t typically my first response to adversity, so I am hoping that by making it a regular practice, the next time something negative happens, I’m ready for it with a different perspective…one of thanks.

So, here’s my plan for July.  I am going to take time each day to post about things I am grateful for (I hope you all don’t get sick of me).  It will be a sort of public gratitude journal.  I am going to focus on finding the good in every situation, not just the ones that go my way.  I encourage everyone reading this to add the things that you are grateful for each day too.  Let’s see what happens when August rolls around, maybe we’ll all be better at being thankful for what we have. 🙂

*******************************************************************************

 Note:  If you would like to read the whole article about gratitude in Psychology Today, you can find it here:        http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-heart/201305/gratitude-soul-food

Visiting a Labyrinth

This is the labyrinth we walked through.  It is done in the same style as the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

This is the labyrinth we walked through. It is done in the same style as the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

Yesterday I visited a labyrinth with a friend of mine from work.  She teaches at the school I where I work and she is a fan of meditation.  When I told her that meditation was my Healthy Habit #2 for 2014, she offered to take me to the labyrinth at a local church and to show me how she does movement meditation as she follows the circular path.  Yesterday, we finally made the trip over there on our lunch hour and she introduced me to walking a labyrinth.  I loved it!!

For those of you that aren’t familiar with what a labyrinth is (I sure wasn’t…I thought it was just an 80’s movie with David Bowie!), labyrinths were a feature of many medieval cathedrals.  One of the best remaining examples is found in Chartres Cathedral in northern France. The one that we visited today was a replica of that one.  Unlike a maze they have only one path – there are no dead ends. You exit at the same spot where you entered, after winding your way along the path to the center, and then making your way back out the way you came.  People walk the labyrinth slowly, as an aid to contemplative prayer and meditation, as a spiritual exercise, or as a form of pilgrimage.

When we got there, we sat and my friend briefly told me about how she meditates as she walks the labyrinth.  Often she uses little cards that have one word written on them – words like inspiration, light, peace, hope, etc.  She chooses a card at random and uses that as her focus for meditation as she walks.  So I chose a card; mine was “inspiration.”  That seemed perfect, as I was feeling inspired already just being there.

The church where we were was one that I had been to before, for an AA meeting.  When I was there, I had probably walked right across the labyrinth and not even noticed it.  If I had, I wouldn’t have known what it was anyway.  There were quite a few people around, maybe some 12 step meeting had just gotten over, or some other sort of gathering.  There were people milling about, talking to one another, there was a guy riding around the church campus on a bike, and someone across the street at a house talking to the mail man.  It wasn’t quiet.  It was warm outside, the sun was at the top of the sky and while there were some really nice, big trees around, the labyrinth was getting full sun.

We made our way to the entrance, my friend going in first and me giving her several feet before I started.  I carried my little “inspiration” card in one hand and my prayer beads in the other.  I was surprised as how quickly I was able to shut out all of the audio debris around me.  I was soon able to concentrate on what I was thinking and praying.  I was able to hear the gentle breeze as it whispered through the trees and I was able to hear birds singing that I hadn’t noticed before.  As I progressed inward to the center of the labyrinth, I prayed for inspiration.  Inspiration for me in my writing and I prayed for the ability to inspire others.  I prayed for inspiration for my husband and our friend as they talk about starting a new church plant.  On my way back out, I prayed prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has inspired me to do and to be.  I thanked Him as I always do for the life He has given me.

When we finished the labyrinth we sat down again to talk about it.  It had become quiet, I felt very peaceful and relaxed.  My friend said that was almost always her experience; that at first there is noise and distractions, but by the time she finishes, there is a quieting of those distractions and noise.  There is peace.  I wonder if it’s really quieter, or if we are just choosing to hear things differently, as we’re in a different state of mind?

Overall, my labyrinth experience was a wonderful one.  I will absolutely do it again.  I love that I am finding new ways to find serenity and express my gratitude, and growing my friendships with others as I do it. 🙂