On some days, it feels like the negative thoughts—and a few ridiculous ones, too—are on a constant loop. Everything is wrong for no particular reason (and some entirely made up reasons).
You know the ones?
You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re just generally unhappy; focused only on the things that have gone wrong that morning, that month, your entire life.
You’ll reminisce about that one argument (long since resolved) that you had with a friend a few months ago. Or you’ll ruminate on the client who refused to pay—or even answer your emails—for months, long after the balance (or the bitterness) has been settled. Or you’ll spiral into a deep pit of anxiety and worry about things that you can’t control or that haven’t even happened yet (and maybe never will).
Of course, it’s the same day that you hit major traffic on your way downtown and you spill coffee onto your white jeans (bold choice) and you’ll get hit on by a creep as you walk down the street.
It’s the days where everything goes to shit for no particular reason, but rather a lot of little ones—and it’s the days where it’s only those small, shit moments that you can focus on.
I think you know the ones I mean.
Late last year, I was feeling like I’d had a lot of those moments*—nearly every day. And it was exhausting, really. Until I realized that I could change it; that I had control over it.
Aaron was (understandably) rather annoyed with me last Christmas Eve for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I demanded to open one of my Christmas gifts from him—and then another, then another, until I had opened them all. (Oops.) And secondly, one of the gifts he’d gotten me—the Five-Minute Journal—was one I had just recently bought for myself. (Double oops.)
I’m actually quite glad to have two of them now, because it’s become one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given (by anyone else and by myself). The journal—which is filled with inspirational quotes and weekly challenges (these are a few of my favorite things)—requires that you start your day listing three things you’re grateful for, three things that would make the day great, and a few daily affirmations. You end the day by listing three amazing things that happened, and answering the question: “How could I have made today better?”
I’ve been using the journal for two months now and it’s changed my life. Aaron would argue that I say this about a great many books I own, so let me elaborate:
When I start my day by listing three things I’m grateful for—three common responses include my kind, patient (see Christmas Eve story above) husband; my beautiful home; coffee—it’s a lot more difficult to focus on what I don’t have.
When I’m forced to list what might make the day great, I find myself zeroed in on the most important tasks on my to-do list. Sometimes it’s as simple as: “Send Aaron a random text saying you love him”. (Yes, I have to remind myself to do this sometimes and yes, doing it makes my day far better than doing another load of laundry.)
When I write three or more daily affirmations (“I am healthy and strong” or “I am a talented writer” or “I am kind in action and in thought”), the constant thought loop in my head begins to change. I find myself repeating the good stuff throughout the day, as I work, as I write, as I’m tempted to lose my patience at the lovely gentleman driving 50 in the fast lane.
It’s just one small book, with a list of prompts that don’t change from day-to-day. And perhaps it’s not what everybody needs to feel grateful or to walk through this life with a consistent awareness of the good in it.
But it’s made all the difference for me.
I tend to be a fairly anxious person; sometimes, without even realizing it, I find myself in a pretty dark place, spurred by something seemingly unimportant, like an offhand comment from a friend or an unfortunate story on the news. I have a tendency to spiral and it can be difficult to lift myself out of it.
But reminding myself, every single day—as I start my day—of what I have to be thankful for (even if I can only muster three things), well, that lifts me. In fact, it’s helped keep me from falling into a few dark places to begin with.
My spiritual life coach (unbeknownst to her), Marianne Williamson has said: “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
And it’s not that I’m unaware of the good in my life; it’s that I often take it for granted and I allow it to fall in the shadows of every instance where I feel that the world has done me wrong.
But when I explicitly and purposefully write down “how good things really are”—well, I’m pretty damn joyful.
It might seem hippie-dippie, but it works. (I find that quite a few “hippie-dippie” things do.)
I won’t pretend to be ignorant to the fact that I have far more to be thankful for than many. And this exercise isn’t always particularly easy. But isn’t it those things—the tough things—that are always worth it?
We will also continue to have bad moments and bad days. Gratitude is not a cure-all; it’s an attitude shift. And sure, occasionally we’ll slip—but creating a daily habit of being thankful for the good, of recognizing what we have over what we lack, won’t just change our lives, it’ll change the world. (It sounds like hyperbole, but I believe it.)
You get to decide what defines your days, the sum total of your life. We all do. It’s really up to us whether we choose to be bitter, or be joyful. I choose to be joyful.
*I realize that not all of these “moments” can be cured with a piece of paper, a pen, and some positive thinking. If you believe you’re suffering from depression, I encourage you to contact a professional for support.