As the end of the year draws nearer, we head into reflection season. But how often do we take the time to show gratitude for the ways we grew and learn—especially in ways we didn’t expect to?
Please note: This post has been revised to include contributed content, which is marked with an * asterisk. All thoughts and opinions remain my own.
Multiple studies document the positive effects gratitude has on a person’s well-being. With regular practice, they focus on what they have without judgement. No wallowing in guilt and frustration over what they don’t have.
Some people maintain a daily or weekly practice with journaling about what they’re thankful for. Others meditate. Some practice gratitude in the moment: “The trees on my street look amazing in their fall colors. I’m so glad I live in a place where I can see them.”
Hey, sometimes it’s the little stuff that makes a huge difference in our mood.
Then there are the big things. The huge, not always great life events that knock our feet out from under us, and leave us needing the support of a qualified online psychiatrist*. Believe it or not, those hard times can also be something to be thankful for. It all comes down to whether you’re ready to transform those challenges into gifts. If not, no worries. You can come back to it later when you are ready.
That’s something I’ve been getting better about over the last few weeks, thanks to Positive Intelligence mental fitness training. Sometimes finding the gift in a bad experience isn’t too hard. Like when I got fired from that really toxic job several years ago. I’d been applying elsewhere and trying to leave for months. But the way it worked out, I at least got severance pay while I found something better. Also, I learned how to spot red flags in workplace cultures before joining them.
Now, how about the stress of planning and pulling off our COVID-delayed wedding last month? Working through decision fatigue, being flexible and creative when things had to change, anticipating and preventing all possible family drama, all while planning event that was true to my husband and myself? Holy crap, we actually did that! We supported each other the whole way and ended up throwing the best wedding either of us has ever been to.
Finally, with all this in mind, I invite you to take some time in these final days of fall and try some of these gratitude exercises. Don’t judge yourself for how you might have done things better, or how unfair life or other people might have been. Just think about what you learned, how you grew, or how you were inspired.
- Think of an unexpected difficulty you had to deal with. Without worrying how well you dealt with it, how did it help you grow? Was there a skill or ability you developed in the process? Did you gain any new knowledge? Were you motivated or inspired to take some kind of action?
- Think of a person you didn’t necessarily get along with very well. Look past the ways they frustrate or annoy you. Then, think about what might make interacting with them more pleasant. Could you empathize with them more? Are there questions you could ask to understand why they do the things that bother you? Would a little more patience with them go a long way?
- Think about something that didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. First, resist the urge to focus on how it “should” have gone. Think only about how it went in reality. Then, try to find a gift in that outcome. What did you gain that you wouldn’t have if it had gone according to your plan?
That’s it. Just a few thinking exercises to put you into a mindset of gratitude. However, if writing helps you process thoughts better, you could use them as journal prompts. If you try any of them, please leave me a comment and let me know!