One of the most impactful things I’ve done over the last few years has been taking on a gratitude practice.
It started with a seemingly simple, insignificant process. Using the Five Minute Journal, I would write down three things that I was grateful for each morning. Quick and easy.
Some days, coming up with three things to appreciate or look forward to was simple. But other days, it was a struggle. And that’s actually where I noticed the greatest impact in my life.
Simply knowing that I had to think of several things to be grateful for each day literally changed the way I view the world. Rather than getting absorbed in the mundane and negative events throughout the day, I started to look for little things to enjoy in every activity.
And since I started this practice, I’ve been able to maintain that mindset.
When I walk my dog, I now find joy in the quiet of the early morning, or the feeling of the breeze on my face. When I workout, I appreciate the fact that I’m healthy enough to move my body and I enjoy the rush I get from exercise.
Admittedly, this stuff sounds hokey. But it works. Looking for these little joys in life has made a big impact on my overall happiness, and it has done wonders in helping me deal with difficult times.
I write a lot about the ideas behind Stoic philosophy and The Obstacle is the Way, but it’s sometimes tough to keep sight of these ideas throughout the day. As a refresher, one of the core principles is that we don’t control the world around us, only our reaction.
It turns out that a strategic gratitude practice offers a great way to keep this in mind.
I’ve found that my gratitude practice is most impactful when I intentionally focus on events in my life that I would typically consider to be negative.
For example, I’ve been renovating my house for almost 3 months now. A seemingly simple renovation has continuously grown and morphed to a scope that I never could’ve imagined. For the past month and a half, I’ve been looking for a way out, but I can’t even find a good way to quit until after the work is done.
This project eats up just about every minute of free time I have, and it has led to some serious sleep deprivation, among other negative side effects.
But rather than letting this make me miserable, I’ve looked for the opportunities hidden within this challenge.
Never before have I had a chance to dig into a house and truly understand how home construction works.
I’ve done more tile work over the past few months than I ever thought I would. And on top of that, I’ve been exposed to things like electrical work, plumbing, drywall, demolition, and moulding installation.
If I’m being completely honest, none of these are topics that I really had a desire to learn about. But I’m grateful that I have.
Through this process, I’ve educated myself, so in the future when I’m paying to have this type of work done I’ll be able to intelligently communicate my expectations to contractors, and I’ll know when someone is trying to rip me off. I’ve also gained an appreciation for craftsmanship and construction that I never would have developed if I didn’t do some of it myself.
And I know that, once it’s done, I’ll be proud of my work, and I’ll enjoy knowing that I did a lot of it myself.
Ultimately, this house renovation has presented a prime opportunity for me to be miserable, and I doubt I would have decided to take this all on if I knew how challenging it would be. But by focusing on the positive aspects of the experience, I’ve been able to actually enjoy most of the process.
Beyond this example, there are countless other opportunities to find positive aspects in seemingly negative events. When you’re getting pushed hard during a workout, you could think about all of the pain and suffering you’re going through. Or you can think about how the experience is making your mentally and physically tougher.
When you have to put in long days to meet a deadline at school, you could focus on the good times you might be missing with your friends, and how you’re running low on sleep. Or you could be grateful that you have the opportunity to learn in the first place, and you can think about all of the skills you’re learning through the process.
When you truly internalize a gratitude process, it can change your life (as Teddy Droseros is showing with his Grateful Peoples project). Think about what “negative” things you have going on in your life, and how you can find some aspect to be grateful for.
And consider trying a gratitude practice. It just might change your life.
I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.