Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, November 24th 2016, I decided to make it a habit of writing down at least three things I was grateful for each and every day. For some crazy reason unlike most other habits I have started and then failed to sustain, I stuck with it. While my evidence is only empirical and self-reported, I believe the practice of writing down my gratitude for 1100 days has changed me in three significant ways.
1) As my natural inclination is to look at life through the lens of problems and struggles, reflecting on gratitude every day has conditioned me to also hunt for the good in my life;
2) Not only do I hunt for the good, I intentionally work to manifest the good so I have something meaningful to be grateful for; and
3) Because of my greater emphasis on the what I am grateful for instead of problems and struggles, when I do encounter negative experiences or thoughts, I find that I bounce back to the positive much more quickly and stay there longer.
This may all sound a bit too “Pollyannish” but I think I am a realist but with much greater optimistic and positive tendencies! And if one could have read the years and years of my poor attempts at journaling, they would have seen with their own eyes, my dominant leaning towards pessimism, self-loathing, and negativity.
Years ago when I first read Viktor Frankl’s magnificent quote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way,” I didn’t really get what he was saying because I did not see that choosing my attitude was my responsibility and was dependent upon whatever external circumstances were affecting me. If the weather was bad; if I got bad service; if things didn’t work out to my satisfaction; if someone didn’t like me….these were all reasons for me to be unhappy with life and myself.
Of course I have my moments, but I find by hunting for the good and keeping gratitude front and center in my life, the moments are fewer and I move through them more quickly.
A few days ago, I had my over 60 colonoscopy. The night before was especially challenging in preparing for the procedure. Drinking clear fluids for a whole day is not my idea of fun. Gratefully, everything is fine. Gratefully, I have insurance that allows me to access great healthcare. Gratefully, the nurses, doctor, and specialists that met me and ran the procedure were delightful and did their work well, Gratefully, I have a life partner, Claudia, who drove me to and from the procedure. Gratefully, we picked up our darling granddaughter Estelle and took her to a wonderful restaurant for breakfast. Gratefully, the kind waitress brought me french toast instead of the pancakes I ordered and they were the much better choice. Gratefully, the anesthesia wore off quickly and I feel great in writing this. Gratefully, this week is Thanksgiving and I don't have to work until Monday.
In a marvelous proclamation by President George Washington, he asked all Americans to set aside Thursday, November 26, 1789 as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to acknowledging with grateful hearts, the many favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Gratefully, I live in a country where safety and happiness are still central values shared by most of us and hopefully, most of us could take some time to acknowledge with a grateful heart, the many blessings that are all around us if we just take the time to see, hear and be present.