Gratitude (noun) is a simple act the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Sometimes things in life are not that great
A couple of years ago my little family was in turmoil, we all walked around in emotion mind for many months, setting each other off just by breathing. I did not want to be at home or around my loved ones. When I was at work, at training or out with friends I felt like me, but every time I was in the car driving home I could feel my mood change. I felt irritable all the time, frustrated, and I noticed I was overthinking which led to trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I am the queen of sleep normally. Home was not my happy place anymore.
I had not been an overthinker like this before. Not sure if any of you have had this experience, but it is tiring. When you are running the same scenario over and over in your head for a few hours or days, there is no capacity to do anything else or to feel anything else beside the destructive story that is on repeat in your head. It made me react to people in an unkind or unnecessarily short manner, especially the ones closest to me.
The moment it dawned on me that something was the matter
One morning it took me 35 minutes of a 45-minute run to stop overthinking. When I run my head is usually clear of other things, I can be mindful and in the moment. I can take in my surroundings, listen to the sounds, appreciate the unique smell of NZ bush; I am aware of my body and how it is moving – I know when the pressure through my big toes are not even at push-off of my running action – this is how aware I am! But on this day, I was stuck in my thoughts with my scenario playing over and over, I was predicting the conversation and predicting the outcomes. I remember looking down at my watch at the 15-minute mark thinking: “Shit, I need to stop this silly thinking.” And I consciously told myself, “Lex stop. Enough already” and tried the technique where thoughts are like smoke coming out of a chimney and which get blown away with the wind.
A couple of minutes later I found myself back in my story. I got back to the gym and told my husband, Cam. He said, “Yeah, I have noticed this. You have not been yourself; you seem grumpy all the time and I am too scared to talk to you just in case I get my head bitten off.” It made me sad to hear this was how I was carrying myself. I value smiles, kindness, love, laughter and lifting people up. I don’t want to be a thundercloud. Please don’t get me wrong; we all can be moody, grumpy, irritable beings sometimes and are not smiling and laughing all the time. But I became a person who hardly smiled or laughed at home and this was not the me I wanted to be. This was not me.
I needed to change something
Something needed to be done. I was exercising regularly, I was eating well, and I had close friendship connections that were fulfilling (and they really did keep me sane(ish) during this period in my life), but I could not see the good in my life at home and I could not really see the good in the people at home either. I don’t know what it is that led me to a gratitude journal. I think it may have been a conversation with a friend or I maybe it was a TED talk on gratitude. But I am so very glad I started down that path. I set myself the task of writing three things I am grateful for each day, one act of kindness to others and a compliment to myself. I would sit in bed and write in my journal at night before bed. I noticed it cleared my head of the day’s issues. I could fall asleep more easily and it highlighted the fact that I had a lot to be grateful for. I had a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat and wonderful people in my life who I had strong connections with and made me feel loved. Those really are the important things in life. And once we understand that we can see through the turmoil of hard life situations.
Writing down random acts of kindness made me want to be kinder to more people including myself. I slowly started to return to a less moody, snappy, irritable person. When we are caught up inside our own heads we can’t see out and when we do see out all we focus on are the frustrating, annoying, irritating things people are doing or saying. Honestly, it is not usually the other people but ourselves and how we are perceiving them/things. We allow them to be frustrating and annoying. When we make time to focus our energy on a more uplifting practice like gratitude we change our outlook. There is considerable research out there about the positive effects of practicing gratitude. This really changed my outlook and helped me through a tough period in my life. I have continued to write in my gratitude journal. It grounds me to what is important and makes me realise I am very fortunate just as I am, with what I have.