If you’ve had a recent breakup or life isn’t exactly where you want it to be, being thankful for what you do have is a tough one.
As most of you know I reject the “think a happy thought” philosophy when it stands on its own and does not include a “but do your work that might be painful” component. My experience on both sides of the therapy table had led me to believe that in order to be successful, work must be balanced. You can’t remain in the painful past for a great length of time without coming up for air, doing positive affirmations and working on your confidence.
At the same time you can’t think a happy thought without working through the emotional garbage of the past. Neither way works by itself. Clinical depression MUST be treated, but even if a person doesn’t meet all the DSM criteria for depression, the holidays can trigger a lot of pain if you are working through things and feeling alone.
As it says in the book and workbook, one thing that helped me as I was working through so much painful stuff was “gratitude lists.”
When you are feeling down and depressed, it is easy to lose sight of how much you have in your life. While you must do your grief work and you must allow yourself to feel as bad as you really feel, you also must take time to stay focused on how much you have in your life. When you are taking a break from the painful work, look at the positive things about you and all the positive things in your life.
When I first started gratitude lists, I had nothing. My marriage was recently over, I had lost my job, I had left my house. I felt like I had nothing. So when my therapist suggested I write a GRATITUDE LIST, I balked. She asked me to write down every positive thing in my life and I couldn’t think of a single thing. She told me to write down that I had clothes. I looked at my clothes. They were not nice and they didn’t even fit. Why would I WRITE about that? I was busy trying to ignore the ill-fitting rags. She said to write it down anyway. She had me write that I had a pair of pants and a hanger to hang them on and a closet to hang them in.
It seemed silly. I thought, “oh whoopee!” as I wrote.
But I did it.
Like most things I did at the time, I did it with a hint of attitude and more than a dollop of skepticism. But I had no ideas of my own so I did what was suggested.
In the workbook section on journaling, I talk about starting and ending each day with a positive thought. For me, my charter was to write gratitude lists every day, especially at night. It was important to end the day on a positive note, with positive affirmations and gratitude lists. Both were hard, and I spent more than a few nights blankly staring at my journal trying to find something to be grateful for.
Almost every night I wrote that I was grateful for my children. I was grateful for nice weather. I was grateful when the car started. I was grateful when I was in a short line at the store.
As I went through my days, I started to LOOK for things to be grateful for. Lou Tice calls this the “reticular activation system.” That if you plant in your brain what to look for, the mind looks for it. It’s like if you want to buy a new car and you check out a Nissan Sentra. As you’re trying to decide, suddenly you see every Nissan Sentra on the road. They seem to be everywhere, whereas before you were making this decision, you didn’t really notice them or how many there were.
There is a proactive component to thinking positively and planting the seed for what you want your brain to think about and you have to plant the nugget of gratitude.
So years before I even heard of Lou Tice I started to push my RAS into gear with gratitude. I started to look for little nuggets in my life to be grateful for while at the same time plowing through the painful past. Finding positive things in the present actually HELPS get you through painful work.
It helps you do your inventories and face the music about what work needs to be done.
So there I was scanning the horizon for even the simplest thing to think about and include in my nightly gratitude lists. I started to walk through my days with an eye toward what was good and what was working.
Eventually the gratitude list idea started to work. Whenever I had slogged through writing a letter to my ex in my journal or looking at some painful childhood memory, I would sit down and decide to write a gratitude list. I would concentrate on the things I had that I was thankful for. Sometimes I was grateful I was able to shower that day and eat a hot meal.
In the beginning my gratitude lists were very basic because I didn’t really have a lot in my life but I had some good things and I had to remember that. As life started to get better, I was able to track my success by my abundantly growing gratitude lists. They helped me to see how much I had and how blessed I was. Even during my darkest days I could find something to be grateful for and that gratitude made all the difference in the world.
Today I am grateful that I have a decent life and some good things. I still have very difficult days and times since Michael’s passing and lot of secondary losses to still contend with, but I’m getting there little by slow.
But I’m still grateful for the clothes on my back though they fit better and are in better shape than they were many years ago. 🙂 Today I’m still grateful for things big and small.
Gratitude lists are important for you to see that everything is not dark and terrible and bleak. You do have a lot in your life, and you have things going for you. Write them down and watch those lists grow as you take care of yourself.
Commit to writing a gratitude list every day in your journal. Try to make it the same time of the day or night.
Being grateful during the holidays after a tough year or during a rough breakup is hard. But if you commit to your process, if you commit to building a better life, you can be grateful for the chance to change things.
Start a gratitude list today and start to notice the good things in life while you do your work.
I’m very grateful you are here and reading this post! Thank you all!!!