Gratitude & Grappling with Discontentment

I’ve been finding it interesting lately how I’ll have a topic in mind to write about, but when I go to type it up, it doesn’t flow. I’ll wait a few days or more and something will happen that puts it all together. I love how that works! Now to get on with it…

I woke up yesterday morning tired from a night of interrupted sleep. I’ve been frustrated and ashamed that my imagination is so active, so paranoid that at my age I’ve had to sleep with the light on the last few nights to even attempt to get some shut-eye. I was nearly in tears that morning over the fact that I feel like I can’t escape it. No matter how much I try to think of happier things, it creeps its way back into my mind and sets up camp. Per usual, I went on my phone after my 500th alarm had gone off to further wake myself up, which I know isn’t the best habit. For some reason, a couple of girls from high school popped into my head and I decided to see what they were up to nowadays, so naturally, I looked them up. They’re both off living in another state with careers, so it seems. Typically I’d be jealous, and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t a little envious, but I was mostly happy for them and upset with my own life. Would I ever move out? Experience creating a new home in a new place? Making new friends to share that stage of life with? Will I ever find a career I’m excited about? That final question has been on my mind a lot lately and, as an overthinker, I’ve dwelled on it frequently.

To give some background, I grew up with parents who never received college degrees, but were able to do well for themselves and us. I believe it’s because of this that my parents never pressured my brother or myself about college, in contrast to my friends’ parents who were on the you-need-to-go train. While I appreciate it, I also tend to be a bit disappointed that we didn’t have the same guidance as others around us. I often wish my parents could be like others where they mention how we’ve always loved or been good at something or led us towards a better option when it comes to what to do with our lives. Even if I feel like I’ve found a path, and I share it, I feel like it’s met with half-listening and doubt. If there is encouragement, I don’t believe it. Our household has a way of offering half-hearted support face-to-face and expressing uncertainty when that person isn’t present. It reminds me of a friend I used to have who talked negatively about all of her friends. When word got to me that she was talking behind my back, I ended the friendship. Though she denied it, her track record had me believing otherwise. Same goes for the support that’s presented upfront; it feels as though there’s negative chatter going on somewhere else. As my brain began a long spiral down this path of disappointment, I hopped on the stationary bike and read my book as I pedaled along, finding a moment afterward to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and at least be thankful that my legs look like they have a slight bit of muscle.

I was still peeved hours later when I resumed working on my taxes. When it came to entering my school expenses, I became aware of just how much the job I’m often embarrassed to admit I have has paid toward my tuition. I immediately felt foolish for being so bothered by my personal timeline and spot in life. Yes, we all have moments where we wish for things to be different or for more than what we’re getting, but if we take a moment, we might realize just how fortunate we are. Later that evening at work, we were short-staffed and the rain brought in people keeping us steadily busy. I acknowledged, though, that one of the managers stepped in to fill the place of someone who had called out. As I was cleaning up at the end of the night, I had a moment where I reflected and was pleased to have a manager willing to work alongside us. Whether she’s a great manager or not in other aspects didn’t matter, she was setting an example of how a leader should be, and for that, I was and am thankful. I woke up this morning immediately grateful for the good night’s sleep I enjoyed. I got on the stationary bike and was happy to say that, even though I’ve been going to bed a bit later than I’m aiming for, I’ve gotten up for some quick exercise the last two days, like I hoped to. I also have a book I’m excited to read while I ride or at any other point during the day, which is a rare occurrence for me. Not every day is a good day. Some have a mix of good and bad events, but we decide what we want to take from them. 

About three months ago, I vowed to start keeping what I’m calling a “Make Something Good Today” journal. The idea came after beginning a book of the same name by Ben and Erin Napier, stars of HGTV’s Home Town. In it, Erin talks about how she began a daily online journal to document something good that happened that day to help combat her natural pessimism. While I loved the idea as someone who isn’t naturally optimistic, I knew I didn’t have it in me to commit to writing a journal daily. However, I decided to keep a list of three good things that happen each day, just as my mom had my brother and I do occasionally as children. I chose three because it felt attainable without being unrealistic. I’ve learned that some days it’s really difficult to come up with three, even one, but other days I’ve written down six. As a result of doing this, which I’ve surprisingly kept up with, I now more frequently seek out the good things, almost like a scavenger hunt. It’s also helped me better recognize when my attitude needs an adjustment, similar to what happened yesterday, though, some funks are harder to get out of than others. By training your brain to detect even the little things that are positive within a day, it changes your thinking, making you feel a bit more thankful than usual even on the bad days. What makes the biggest difference is if you take the opportunity to feel grateful for each thing you write down, rather than simply listing them. Feeling the emotions is where the real impact happens. Instead of simply appreciating a conversation you had with someone, you’re now grateful for that person. Rather than patting yourself on the back for drinking a bottle of water on your way home from work and successfully upping your fluid intake, you’re happy and proud that you’re taking one step, small as it may be, towards better health. Something that appears minor can have a huge effect if you pay attention to it, positive or negative. It all starts small, but it gains momentum with consistency. Make sure the energy is going to something good.

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