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How to be grateful, even when life sucksIMAGE: ELIJAH O'DONNELL | PEXELSLet’s face it! When you’re having a self-pity party and you feel crap, the last thing you feel like doing is thinking about what you’re grateful for. This would totally ruin the vibe (of the party).by Tracey GroombridgeA couple of years ago, I was one of those people who had an aversion towards any form of gratitude practice. It seemed to me those kind of people thought like Pollyanna and believed in rainbows, lollipops and butterflies. That didn’t resonate with my self-image of a practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of girl like me.
What I was doing wasn’t working.
When I experienced my second serious episode of an anxiety disorder, I realised that in order to get on top of it, I needed to try something different because clearly what I had been doing wasn’t working.
Gratitude practice felt forced at first, and somewhat insincere. The fight against hard luck was something I had practised my whole life. I became good at being outraged – resisting the good to focus on the injustice(s). I was indeed an expert at fighting the so-called ‘good fight’. Rage (against the machine) was my middle name. Let’s be frank; the principles of gratitude were nice, cute and on trend, but did they really change anything? IMAGE: TRACEY GROOMBRIDGEPassive aggressive – or funny?I found it really tough at first to identify things I should be grateful for, as it seemed to me that this was at worst obligatory and at best two-faced. Did I really feel grateful? The traditional approach of writing down what I was supposed to be grateful for wasn’t working for me, but ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ I thought to myself. There might be another way. I decided to start to practise gratitude with what I knew – drawing silly cartoons and embracing humour.
It was easier at first to identify things that annoyed me and then be grateful for the opposite. Like, “I’m grateful for hot coffee because lukewarm coffee sucks” or “I’m grateful that at least I know what 12 items or less means at the supermarket aisle.” Some might say passive aggressive! I say funny!
What this did for me was begin to change the patterns I had created in my own brain. Instead of always seeing the negative, I started to see the flip side first. Instead of just ruminating on the bad, my brain was forced to take another track, to think even in shitty times that there might be something good about a situation. Mindfulness and brain experts believe that a regular gratitude practice alters the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the grey matter functioning well, and basically boosts the brain so we can ward off things like dementia and depression. The other thing that psychological experts say about gratitude is that it’s easy to implement and changes are seen pretty quickly. This is good for an impatient me. I mean, who doesn’t like quick and easy? Gratitude in different guisesMy form of gratitude is perhaps indirect and mixed with mindfulness, and is a hell of a lot more fun to take part in, if you ask me. This form didn’t mean I ignored the injustice around me by looking through rose-coloured glasses, which was something I never liked about the Pollyanna version of a gratitude practice. Instead this wittier, visual version of gratitude suited me much better.
In times that are trying, like now with COVID-19 still breathing down our necks, it’s harder to find appreciation for the good things, unless we actively seek them out. That’s the part of our behaviour that we need to train because good news doesn’t just land in our laps or brains, and it certainly doesn’t sell; so we have to do some detective work to find it. We don’t have to go far on social media though. Pages like The Kindness Pandemic can help a brain-flip or a route change in next to no time.
Gratitude is in a moment, or in an experience that happens to you or someone else. It’s alive and kicking if you allow yourself to see it. However, be warned; just because you write in a gratitude journal each day doesn’t mean you will automatically be more grateful and, in turn, a better person. Gratitude has to be alive outside of the journal’s pages, which means you have to adjust not only attitudes, but also behaviours in your everyday life. Taking on changesChanging a pattern of thought in my brain wasn’t easy. The way I adjusted my thinking was to first notice when I wasn’t being grateful. Once I noticed, then I started to do something about it. The next part was that I consciously chose to.
Today I am grateful for lots of things, but specifically, if just one person understands this piece of writing and makes a change to being a better human, I’m pretty bloody grateful for that.