I follow a blog written by a female named Marla (marladragon.wordpress.com), and there have been times when her posts have resonated so loudly of familiarity inside my brain that I feel compelled to leave a (what always turns out to be lengthy) comment. Recently, she shared a post about being grateful, and what really hit home for me was the part where she reminds us that we spend seconds in being grateful and then hours finding things to grumble about.
Here is the part that really stood out to me:
“I think humans have a hard time holding on to gratitude. When you have something (or someone) to be grateful for, you spend about 15 seconds being grateful, then the next 9,000 hours stressing over stuff you can’t control.”
“No,” you say, “that’s not me. Maybe someone else, but certainly not me.”
Fair enough. But then again…
You are excited, thrilled, over the moon. Your boss has finally seen your level of output and that you go above and beyond every day. He gave you a raise! You can’t even imagine how you could possibly thank him for recognizing you out of the bunch. You want to take him out to lunch as a thank you. Before you even finish your happy dance, your brain is now ripping through all of your bills to see where this “extra” money is going go. Is it to that vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Those nice shoes? No. Taxes, electricity, car bill. Suddenly, the air has been let out of the balloon, and you deflate. 15 seconds high, 9,000 hours staring at spreadsheets.
You are minding your own business doing the dishes when someone comes up behind you. They whisper, “I love you,” in your ear. You feel a flush of happy-warmth flood you. You are so lucky to have found someone as wonderful as them. You don’t deserve someone like them. They make you a better person. As you gaze lovingly at them as they walk away, your eyes falls on the overflowing trashcan, the right corner of the trash bag has been pulled into the can and is currently below a pile of coffee grounds. The banana peel on top is threatening to topple to the ground. You know you told that good for nothing kid to take it out hours ago. Anger floods you all over again because the argument about the messy room comes back, full force. 15 seconds flushed with love and gratitude, now, you have the next 9,000 hours to contemplate how spoiled your kid is getting.”
My very first feeling was a profound sense of, “Ut oh, I’ve been caught.” And I suspect anyone who has read those paragraphs is feeling like he or she has been called out as well. I’m embarrassed to realize how true I live those reactions. In fairness, my gratitude for things usually lasts for more than 15 seconds (an unexpected compliment can make me smile all day as I rehear it in my brain), but soon enough, there will be, minimally, a return to the “meh” feeling and sometimes even more negative than simply “meh”.
This is a subconscious shift for all of us, not a plan to shift so quickly away from feeling grateful. But why? And what can we do to make ourselves more open to feeling gratitude for longer periods and more often?
Sure, the easy answer to that is to write a list of things we are grateful for. And that’s easy to do if we include the roof over our heads, food on our table, etc., etc., etc. But that’s not something that’s likely to be the solution to keep gratitude in the forefront of our minds (most of us have probably thought about doing this at least once.) Maybe we could keep a gratitude journal and select a specific number of things we will name as grateful for each day. We’ll probably start out with good intentions, but I suspect that we won’t last an entire 30 days before we become bored or it becomes too difficult to think of something new for which to state we are grateful.
As I was writing this and thinking about it, I wondered what would happen if we shifted our focus from tangible things (home, food, etc.) and focused on the actions daily that we did or didn’t take for which we are grateful? Honestly, I don’t know if I could find something in that theme for which to be thankful, largely because I have many days during which I have no interaction with humanity outside of this screen. Nonetheless, there are days when I do have that kind of interaction, and with a little bit of mindfulness, I can find something for which to be grateful. And, to be honest, there have been times that I should stop for a moment and be grateful for times when I didn’t act on a specific thought or emotion. When I think about it, there are often times where someone or something (usually someone) pushes my buttons, and while I may feel the bubbles of anger well up inside me, I am able to control myself from spewing out whatever my reaction is. I mean, when I hold a door open for someone or let someone out in front of me in traffic, I’d like an acknowledgement of some kind and am disappointed when none is forthcoming.
And what if we take it a step further? What if we make, when possible, the effort to share with the other about being grateful and why? (I actually do that at times from an unconscious level.) Now, I’m not sure I want to speak openly to the person who just pushed a button and thank them for allowing me to be grateful for not reacting in a moment of anger (can you imagine the many different repercussions of doing so?), but I should be sharing my gratitude for the times people make me grateful in positive moments. And as I said, I do that often, but not as a conscious thought.
Or, because our lives are always so busy (or so we tell ourselves to keep from adding on additional duties and tasks), maybe setting aside a day a month where, for a certain number of hours, we will sit still quietly and focus on the things we have found over the last month for which we probably didn’t think about being grateful for but which perhaps we should have been grateful for.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a morning cup of coffee or tea, those moments where we sit quietly and enjoy those beverages could become our “grateful” moments. Or perhaps, whenever we are stuck in line at a drive-thru, we’ll use that time to focus on what we have for which to be grateful.
And we truly need to ‘think outside the box’ about those things for which we are grateful. I suspect we’ll all be a little bit surprised that we have many people in our lives for whom we are grateful. For example, I have a routine 3-month follow-up appointment with my doctor this week. I am actually looking forward to it because it took me 5 years to find a doctor whom I felt actually listened to me and didn’t treat me by rote for ongoing issues (like my diabetes). Her finger remains on the pulse of my known medical issues, but she also makes time to question what other issues I might be facing and, if she can’t think of something for me to try right away, she makes a note for herself to do some further research before my next visit. I am extremely grateful for that level of care, and more often than not, I end up saying “thank you” when our visit is over. Just announcing my gratitude makes it more conscious to me that I feel it.
Maybe you are someone who is always announcing your gratitude and always aware of the feeling of it. (Most of us are not.) I know that I’m going to become even more aware of things for which I am grateful and, whenever possible, spread my gratitude on to others. I’m hoping that this might even change my focus so that the things that ‘push my buttons’ become less noticeable because I’m too busy focusing on the good!
It doesn’t hurt to try!