Sometimes, everything is just crap. Plain and simple. You don’t get the results you want at work – or you can’t seem to find a job no matter how hard you try, you feel stuck in your relationship – or every date you go on turns out to be a disaster, everybody wants something from you and there’s no time to do what you really want, your home looks like a mess, the kids are screaming, and on top of that, you’re out of toilet paper.
When you feel like this, it doesn’t help much that the sun is shining and the birds are twittering. All you want to do is run away and hide, or hit somebody – really hard. But of course you don’t do such things. After all you’re a responsible grown up. So you just grind your teeth instead, and put yourself into survival mode.
There is a way out – and it’s not what you think
We all get stuck in that black hole from time to time, when it feels like all our efforts are useless. We keep thinking about all the things we are unhappy with in our lives, about all the things we would like to be different, but are clueless about how to actually get there.
The trick for how to get yourself moving towards what you want when it feels this dark might seem a bit counterintuitive at first:
A great way to get what you are missing, is to start with appreciating what you already have.
Yep, there you go. Time to pull out that good ol’ GRATITUDE. I know it sounds cliché, but please stay with me, because I have experienced first hand that it REALLY works:
Last year I went through one of those really dark times. It crept on gradually, until I one day realized to my horror that I felt ANGRY ALL THE TIME. I was snapping at my husband and had no patience with my kids. But most of all I was angry with myself, and kept thinking it was no use even trying to improve anything since everything I had tried just failed.
I remember saing to my husband that I felt totally helpless. In theory I could see how I was only making matters worse, but I just couldn’t seem to break the negative pattern.
Learning about the possible benefits of practicing gratitude, I decided to give it a try. After all, my life was crap, so I didn’t exactly have anything to loose… But I can assure you this wasn’t an easy task considering where I was at this point.
I would sit down with my gratitude journal after a stressful morning when finally, after a lot of struggle I had managed to bring the kids to their daycare, and think “I can’t stand this screaming anymore, please give me a pill that will make them shut up!” And then I realized that they where actually healthy enough to be able to scream, and I would write
“I’m grateful that my kids are healthy today”
in my journal.
When it was pouring down, and I still had to get out, I would write
“I’m grateful that I have good rain gear”
When I felt frustrated that yet another day had passed without me managing to get much done on my to-do list, I would write
“I’m grateful that I have the freedom to choose how I use my time”
But isn’t this just fooling yourself?
I’m not saying that you should appreciate that you are sick or just lost your job or that your partner cheated on you – but no matter how difficult your situation, there are always SOME things that are good. And by paying more attention to those things, and allowing ourselves to feel gratitude for what is actually good, we improve our ability to change our situation for the better.
What happened for me was that this practice really helped. The switch didn’t come from one day to the other, but after a week or so struggling to find any reasons daily for being grateful I noticed how my thought patterns started to change. It got easier and easier to focus on the good things in my life – and easier and easier to handle the hard stuff.
I got more patient with the kids, more loving towards my husband, more forgiving towards myself– but the rewards didn’t stop there. My kids actually started to scream less, all the nice sides of my husband started to show again, and since I wasn’t scolding myself all the time I had more energy – and I got more of my hard stuff done.
The thing is, thinking a lot about what’s wrong is stressful.
Also, when we think about crap, we only see…crap 🙁
It will keep us in a bad mood and suck the energy out of us, and unless you’re a true fighting spirit who uses anger, revenge etc. as fuel, it will make it harder, not easier, to change your situation.
When you start thinking about things that you actually can be grateful for – even if it feels far out at first – it will help you to feel more energized, confident and powerful. All of which are very helpful components in order to change your situation 🙂
The Gratitude Bootcamp
According to science, if you can think of as little as THREE things you can be grateful for everyday, it will reduce your stress level and make you a happier and healthier person. (If you have time to watch a highly interesting TED talk where this is mentioned, you’ll find it HERE)
But when we’re not used to think this way, we need some practice. So how about dedicating the coming week to learning the art of gratitude? (No worries, it will only take you a few minutes each day). Ready? Here’s what to do:
- Get yourself a gratitude journal. (A normal notepad, or some paper sheets will do just fine 🙂 )
- Decide which time of the day that fits you best for writing. (I prefer to do my gratitude journaling sometime in the beginning of the day, since it will improve my mood and help me the rest of the day, but many people prefer to do it before going to sleep, and any time is better than no time.)
- Write down at least three things you can be grateful today. Start every sentence with “I’m grateful that…” (Personally I find it good to aim at making it a long list, like one page in that note pad, because this will force you to remember things that are easy to take for granted. For example, I like to write down that I’m grateful for living in a country with peace, healthcare, democracy and freedom of speech, that I actually have a place to live (even if it’s messy sometimes 😉 ), that I have food in the pantry and a washing machine.)
- If all you can think about is the bad stuff, try to look closer. If you’re not used to practicing gratitude, you will probably find that a lot of complaining thoughts keep popping up. I find it very powerful to try to change those complaints into something I can be grateful for, like that I’m grateful for my boots when it’s raining instead of complaining of the rain itself. Or when I complain that I’m loosing too much time surfing on the internet I’m still grateful that there IS internet these days…
- Practice, practice, practice… Taking the time to actually write down a list of things you can be grateful for makes it more real and easier to remember than just thinking about it. But once you get the hang of it, you don’t have to journal everyday. I pick out my note pad from time to time, when I notice I’m slipping back in old thought patterns, but after a few days I’m usually back on track, and can do the practice in my head little by little as the day goes by.
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Over to you
Have you already tried a gratitude practice? What 3 things can you think about that you can be grateful for today? Please share in the comments – I’d love to hear what you think!
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