Looking on the Bright Side

I’m going to keep it super short this month because, frankly, I didn’t plan my time well, and short is all I can manage on this final day of March 😉

We’re more than a year into this crazy pandemic, and like everyone I’ve been through my ups and downs with it. Lately, I am struggling with an impatient sort of boredom, the sense of each week being just like the last. I’ll get to Thursday and think “awesome, it’s almost the weekend”, but then I’ll realize that my weekends are pretty much all the same too, and then before I know it, it’ll be Monday again and the cycle will start all over. I know many people felt like this LONG ago, but for some reason, it’s hitting me most powerfully right now.

So, to counteract this general malaise and sense of stagnation, lately I’ve been working on practicing gratitude more. I know what you’re thinking. Ah yes, I just need to practice gratitude! That should solve everything! Cue eye roll here. Seriously though, if you’re not in the mood for this particular type of self-helpy post, stop now and spare yourself. Sometimes we just don’t need to hear one more suggestion of how we can personally exert more effort in order to become better at surviving an insane world. I get it. I’m not always up for these types of posts either.

Practicing gratitude can feel hard sometimes, especially in the midst of a pandemic. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to turn an attempt at practicing gratitude into an excuse to feel guilty for all of the abundance in my life. Starting off with “I’m grateful for our beautiful apartment” conjures up thoughts of people who are being evicted during this time, or “I’m so grateful for this yummy breakfast” makes me think of all the millions of people who don’t have access to food.

But me doing that is basically the exact opposite of practicing gratitude. That’s practicing guilt, and frankly, I’ve had enough practice with guilt to last a lifetime. In case you too struggle with this particular form of self-sabotage, I want to remind you that feeling guilty does not help you put food in other people’s mouths or right the wrongs in the world. In fact, feeling guilty drains your energy and saps your motivation, thus preventing you from serving the world in whatever way you are here to serve. So stop doing it to yourself, okay?

So, what does practicing gratitude mean? I’m sure there are a million definitions, but to me it’s about cultivating awareness of the many positives in my life, and making a point of actively appreciating them. The awareness part is key because if we don’t even notice a certain blessing in our life, we can’t very well appreciate it, can we? Think of how many daily pleasures we took for granted until COVID forced us to realize how wonderful it really was to stop in a coffee shop, chat with coworkers over lunch, or go to an evening yoga class.

For me, practicing gratitude is about making an effort to notice all the blessings or simple pleasures that would otherwise fall below my conscious awareness.

When I’m journaling by my window in the morning, I’ll start a bunch of sentences with “I’m so grateful for…” and trust my creativity to do the rest. Focusing on the present moment and all of the things to be grateful for there is often a good starting point, leading to sentences like “I’m so grateful for all the cute dogs in our neighbourhood. I’m so grateful for this gorgeous warm day. I’m so grateful for my yummy tea.” You get the idea. Simple things. Things that exist, in that very moment, for me to notice and cultivate appreciation for.

Another practice I’ve recently picked back up is listing out 10 things that went well at the end of each day. Again, these are super simple: “I flossed my teeth tonight. I am in bed before 10:30. I didn’t watch any tv today.” Any small wins apply! Some days it takes me a really long time to come up with 10 things I feel good about, especially if it wasn’t a great day. But I think these are the very days it is most important to seek out the positives. So I sit there, wracking my brain and feeling annoyed by the whole exercise. But by the time I’m finished, I’ve spent that time training my brain to focus on the positive, to notice that, even in the midst of a crappy and unproductive day, there are still things that I can feel good about.

So I want to offer you a challenge, especially if you’re feeling a little blah yourself lately:

Spend a few minutes each morning, and a few minutes each evening, consciously focusing on what you have to be grateful for, or something you can be proud of. Small things. Try it out for a few days and just notice how you feel.

The cool thing is, as we start to train our brains to notice positives, they start doing that for us throughout our days. And that’s the whole idea. Lately I’ll often catch myself thinking “oh, I can put this on my list!” when I have a little win during the day.

On that note, I’m going to add “I sent out my March Newsletter” to my list of positives tonight!

Here’s to the little wins,