I haven’t talked about Practicing Thankful since February (six months!) when I wrote a great big long post about how far I’d come on my thankfulness journey. It was all true, and I’d like to say that in the months since then I have effortlessly maintained that lovely, positive, thankful attitude that I worked so hard to achieve. But…that would not be as true. I haven’t quite reverted into the Little Miss Cranky Pants that I was before, but I’m most definitely still a work in progress.
When I started working on thankfulness, I decided to keep a daily list of things I was grateful for. On my blog. For everyone to see. I found that to be extremely helpful, because it made me focus on the positive, even if the only thing I could think to write was, “I’m so thankful that this stress-filled day is over!” But it was tough to really get myself started. I struggled with being thankful, partly with the task of writing my Thankfuls down, but mostly with just remembering to be thankful. I had some tough times and was pretty hard on myself, but I persevered and it slowly started to work. My attitude began to shift and, for the first time since I was a pre-teen, I was able to see the world through truly positive eyes. Purposely focusing on what I was thankful for enabled me to see just how much I had to be grateful for every day.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to stop writing daily Thankfuls. I had always found it hard to keep the blog up to date, whether I wrote them in a notebook, on my day planner, or directly onto the blog. That part of it had always felt like a burden; necessary to the process, but a burden. The fact that anyone could see whether or not I was fulfilling that commitment only added to the pressure. Honestly, I think that having a “burden” is part of what made it work; the fact that I had a task responsibility made it more real and kept it fresh in my mind. Having a tangible task to complete forced me to maintain my focus. I didn’t see it that way in February, though, and I felt I had come far enough to cut back on the daily written re-enforcement of my goal. Here’s what I said:
I am comfortable with the progress that I’ve made so far. I am paying attention. I drive to work and look at the trees and the clouds and the sky and just everything around me…and I’m thankful. I’m not necessarily thankful to be up early, but I’m sure thankful that it gave me an opportunity to see that sky.
And that’s what it was supposed to be about. It was about approaching the day, approaching my life, in different way. Instead of being grumpy and non-observant and self-involved, I wanted to be looking outside of myself. I wanted to be thankful that I can see and smell and touch and taste all of these wonderful things that populate my life.
Though I’m not where I ultimately want to be, I am in a much more positive frame of mind, a thankful frame of mind. I will definitely continue on, but with a weekly Thankful. It will be easier to keep up with, and I want to see where it takes me. Honestly, I’m not sure what the next stage in the thankful journey will be; I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to gain from Practicing Thankful in 2012. But in the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the appreciation that I’ve gained so far.
As I re-read that February post, I remembered just how at peace I was back then and how totally awesome that felt. I think it’s like when someone’s meds are starting to work: “I’m cured!”
“Um, no, honey. The medicine is working; that is not the same thing as being cured. Take your pill.” My thankfulness medicine was simply starting to work. I was calmer and more peaceful. I wasn’t seeing as much negativity in the world around me, because I was no longer looking for it.
I did enjoy my new-found appreciation for a while. But over the last three or four months, I have felt myself slowly, slowly, slowly paying ever less attention to thankfulness. It’s like I’ve been sliding down a rope, and I finally realized, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going in the wrong direction!” I don’t want to let go of it, to slide all the way back to where I’m not thankful at all.
To combat this, I first re-focused on noticing the moments when I feel thankful, and acknowledging them. Taking the time to say “thank you” makes me feel good. It’s helpful for me to recognize the good things that happen when things go right, but also to distinguish the good parts when things are not going well. When I say thanks, it reduces my stress and reinforces the positives in a bad situation.
I want to – need to – start writing daily Thankfuls again, but I haven’t made that happen yet. In the meantime, I read a post by KJ, who talked about making a gratitude necklace. She used it like a rosary, naming something she was thankful for as she touched each bead. I thought that was a wonderful idea, and another reader talked about making a bracelet. So that’s what I did. Having my thankfulness bracelet and putting it on every morning is a physical reminder of the many blessings in my life.
That was one of the things I struggled with last year: what did I really mean by “going into the day” with a thankful attitude? How can you be thankful for things that haven’t happened yet? Last year I thought I had my answer, that it was all about approaching the day with the expectation of thankfulness, that there were things to be thankful for waiting around every corner. That is still true and important, but I considered those questions again as I was making my bracelet. I had to keep adding beads for all of the things I was grateful for, and this bracelet got bigger and chunkier by the minute. It’s not the kind of jewelry that I would normally wear, in fact it’s the exact opposite. But I love it, because each and every bead is a reminder of the things that hold my life up. I have so, so many things to go into the day thankful for.
As I look back on this last bit of my thankfulness journey, I’m seeing that the first stage wasn’t over six months ago; I still had a lot more growing to do. Backsliding has taught me something important: I have to keep working to maintain my thankfulness. In February, I thought that I was ready to move on, but instead of amping up my efforts and branching out, I scaled back.
For now, I’m working on getting that peace back, because I can feel the difference in myself since I wrote that last Practicing Thankful post. I’m not Little Miss Cranky Pants maybe, but also not the calm and peaceful, positive and thankful minded woman I was becoming. The stress of failed resolutions didn’t help, either. But maybe if I’d been as fully focused on Thankful as I had been before, those failures wouldn’t have looked so bad to me.
Items of Interest:
The power of gratitude by KJ (in which the bracelet idea is born)
Thankfully Moving Forward (in which I thought I was)
Not so Thankful in September (in which I have a hard time with failure)
Thankfulness! by Harold