I have had what could empirically be called a ‘shit year’. The first two years of the twenties were awful for everyone, but this one has been specifically dreadful for my family. We’ve had two significant and heart-breaking deaths, serious illness, financial challenges, mental health issues, and a distinct lack of anything resembling fun. It has been one of those years that will go down in the annals of family history, to be discussed in happier times when we look back with no fondness at all.
In the midst of the pain, it has been hard to stop and remember to be grateful. I have so much to be thankful for, despite the torrents of beastliness we’ve endured, but stopping and looking around as Ferris would suggest has been difficult. As this horrible year comes to an end, I have decided to bring back my habits of gratitude, and share that with you.
Step 1: Take a Minute
I dropped this habit during the worst of the year, but I used to take some time before going to sleep each night to practise mindfulness and reflect on the things I am grateful for. I chose bedtime so the feeling of gratitude could sit in my body and help me to relax and unwind before sleep. Doing this every night helped me to feel naturally more grateful, and happier. I stopped because the ongoing psychic blows of each day were making me feel exhausted, and by bedtime I had no energy for gratitude. Ironic. This habit comes back today.
Step 2: Keep a Journal
I haven’t done this before, but I will now. After a mindfulness session, wellbeing experts suggest keeping a journal and writing down all of the things you’re thankful for. Writing the words means focussing attention on the subject, and consciously pushing away more distracting and negative thoughts. A journal also creates a gratitude record which would be very helpful for reflection on the bluer days.
Step 3: Find Gratitude in Challenges
This one is hard, but I’ve had no choice but to embrace it this year. In all the difficult times, what am I supposed to be learning? What is the Universe trying to teach me? I have always believed that testing times are designed to guide us in some way, but that guidance can be very hard to find in the middle of the journey. I’m hanging in there and getting the help I need, and hoping clarity comes when the worst is over. Experience has told me it will.
Step 4: Be Mindful of Others, and Help
I have spent a lot of time lately driving through flood-affected parts of our country, and I have been profoundly grateful for my safe, dry apartment. Considering those who are worse off than me, and doing what I can to help them, has reminded me of all that I have (and sometimes take for granted). Studies have shown that volunteering for the purpose of helping others increases our own wellbeing, and thus our ability to have more gratitude. It’s certainly true for me.
Step 5: Seek Out Happiness
On bad days, happiness has to be a deliberate decision and a conscious effort. Even though I don’t want to, I will force myself to work out at the gym, watch a funny movie, go dancing, or spend time with someone who makes me smile. Once those groovy little endorphins start to flow, and happiness comes back, gratitude becomes easier.
Step 6: Appreciate the Little Things
I am grateful for all that I have, but it’s recognising the little things that can make the difference in difficult times. There is nothing too small to be thankful for. As I write this I have a tasty coffee in front of me, cuddly socks on an unseasonably chilly day, a working computer, and my favourite writing music playing in my headphones.
To quote that wisest of all soothsayers, (Anonymous)—gratitude turns what we have into enough. I leave this terrible year with an overwhelming sense that, no matter what, I have enough. I hope you do too.