We all have different things that we find challenging, and committing to that thing that we find difficult can bring about pretty radical changes in who we are. Tim has spent the last three months doing something small that has shifted his life in a positive direction as a parent, as an employee, as someone who messes up as we all do, and as someone who struggled for a decade or more with persistent anxiety and discontent. It takes three minutes in the morning and it colors every minute of the day until his head hits the pillow at night.
He will tell you all of this, but what’s more magical is that other people see it and comment about how he seems happy, at peace, calm, “in a good place”, and better than they have ever seen him. I am included in the witnessing–he is literally like a different husband and father, and it has dramatically impacted our family life.
Want to know what it is? I’ll give you a hint.
It’s a gratitude practice. Specifically, Tim keeps a gratitude journal and writes in it every morning when the house is quiet and the world is still dark. I ordered this one after his therapist and I both brought it up as something that might be helpful for his racing mind, but it sat unused for about 8 months before he started using it daily and committed to it.
You may be wondering if it really works; Does it make you happier? Why does it work? Well, I’m no scientist. Here’s a really short article on how gratitude makes you happier, and is especially effective for those who struggle with depression or anxiety. There’s a ton of research out there if you’re interested in scientific studies on happiness linked with gratitude, but I’m more interested in practical, can-do results. I believe its success has a lot to do with a lesson I took for granted until this weekend.
In a conversation with Trish and Jeff, I realized that I learned from an early age how to pretty immediately temper negative experiences with a more objective perspective and that allowed me to move beyond the negative and form a plan of action to change whatever caused the yucky emotions. In other words, perspective is the result of gratitude. Jeff’s mother started the practice when he was a young boy, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but the gist was teaching the kids to respond to hard situations or disappointments by thinking of things to be grateful for.
I see another facet of gratitude that contributes to the way it works, and it has to do with the “beget” concept. With babies, sleep begets sleep. With grown ups, negative energy perpetuates negative energy. We all know those people who can’t see any good in their lives and are stuck in a cycle of complaining and victimization. I think we all go through that in one way or another. The human brain is prone to cyclic patterns, be they positive or negative.
But the good news is gratitude begets more gratitude and all of a sudden you are seeing parts of your life in a positive way that were the bane of your existence not so long ago. Tim can have the worst things happen in day’s time (a lot can go wrong in second grade when you have 25 of them), and now he “zens it out” as he says and looks at it for what it is (over and done with) or as a gift (teaching him something in the process of the mess). Suddenly, “overwhelmed” and “anxious” aren’t descriptors of the days and our time at home feels surprisingly different, enjoyable and connective. He hasn’t had a sleepless night or a mind racing day for months. It has literally impacted every aspect of his life.
Coming up: My most challenging thing and the practice I haven’t started working on yet. (Impressive, right?)