Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gratitude Wrap-up and Halloween Talk

Today is the last day of April! Wowsa. That went by fast. I survived a whole month dedicated to gratitude, and here are my final thoughts:

- Sometimes being grateful is exhausting. It often felt like a lot of work to force myself to make a gratitude list each day. It's starting to get easier though. It's slowly becoming more of a habit. I'd like to see how I feel in six months or a year from now if I keep up the gratitude habit. Isn't it sad how easy it is to forget about the awesomeness in our lives?

- As I said in my last post, I struggle to connect how the gratitude habit can help someone going through a real tragedy. Oddly enough, the marathon bombings happened the next day. So devastating for so many people. I definitely found myself more grateful for my life and my legs and arms and the ability to run and jump and dance and enjoy life. Then I immediately felt guilty. It just seems wrong to be grateful in light of someone else's misfortune or tragedy. I don't know. This one is still a toughie for me.

- I think the biggest change for me is that I'm better able to look for the good in a negative situation. When I'm feeling super angry or stressed about something, I'm able to step back and ask, "What's good about this situation? What can I be grateful for?" NOTE: This doesn't happen every time. Sometimes I just stay pissed. But I'm getting better at asking myself these questions.

There you have it, folks. I hope April was a month filled with gratitude for you. It was fun getting emails/texts/phone calls from friends and family telling me about how gratitude has affected their own lives. Let's stick with it!

Speaking of things I'm grateful for, I found another opportunity to blog about Halloween (as if I needed a reason). I'll be joining my fellow Halloween bloggers for May Monster Madness. It's a week-long blog hop in May dedicated to monsters. MwuuUuuaaaHHhhaAAHAaaa. I have some ideas up my sleeve, but if you have any monster topics you want to hear about, let me know.  

Also, we have six months until Halloween!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

April Gratitude Project - Week 2

I'm grateful the front lawn outside my apt is starting to look pretty.
I am now two weeks into this month of gratitude, and I have to say, I think it is having a very positive effect on my mood. I find myself feeling more joyful. More and more I find myself in a state of gratitude without having to force myself to think of stuff. It's becoming more natural. All in all, it's a pretty cool exercise. And it's so simple. You just have to think of things you're grateful for and write them down. It really doesn't require much time or energy.

I was going to write a whole post about ideas that will help cultivate an attitude of gratitude, but it started sounding like those stupid articles with titles like "10 Ways To Fall Asleep" or "How To Have More Energy." You know the ones I'm talking about. They have a catchy title, but then you read it and quickly realize it's all bullshit you've heard before like "listen to soothing music"  or "eat nuts" and you wonder how it's possible for the same articles to get recycled over and over again every year.

So instead of writing a whole post about it, I figured I'd just summarize some easy ways to help you feel grateful. It's nothing new. Just some good reminders. You can: 

-Tell your loved ones you're grateful for them via email/letter/card/text/chat or in person.
-Put gratitude reminders up around your house--inspirational sayings and what not.
-Write a Yelp review for a business that gives you amazing customer service.
-If you're into photography, take a picture of the things you're grateful for each day.
-When a crappy situation occurs, try to look for the good in it.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it's pretty amazing how much lighter I feel after these two weeks. I had a situation last weekend where I locked myself out of my apartment early in the morning and didn't have my phone with me and had to borrow a neighbor's phone and call the locksmith, blah blah blah. It was crappy, and while I was waiting for the locksmith I was starting to get really angry at the situation. It was already ruining my whole day and the day had barely begun. So I started focusing on the good things in the situation: glad my neighbor was awake and loaned me her phone, glad this didn't happen when I got home late the night before, glad there's a number posted out front so I knew who to call, etc etc. I literally felt my mood shift from frustration to contentment within a matter of seconds. I've never experienced that before. I find myself ruminating less and gratitude-ing more. It's bizarre and awesome.

My only struggle is figuring out how all this could apply to a real tragedy. I think of the Sandy Hook shootings and I can't imagine ever suggesting those parents try to live a life of gratitude. Do you know what I mean? It's such a terrible, terrible loss. I just can't fathom finding any good in the world after that, other than maybe being grateful for the love and support of family and friends. I don't know. I've been wrestling with this all week. 

If you've been practicing gratitude this month, I'd love to hear about your experiences. Let me know how it's going or if you've learned anything new about yourself.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April Gratitude Project - Day 7

Image from Landee See, Landee Do
I've made it through week one of this gratitude challenge. It continues to fascinate me. Here are my week one observations:

- First of all, the daily reminders I set for myself on my computer were driving me crazy. Every two hours or so a pop-up reminder would come up, asking me to think about something I'm grateful for. I found it extremely annoying. I like jotting down five things in the morning and at night. It seems like a good way to bookend my day. But having all those other reminders throughout the day was a giant pain, so I reduced it to one reminder in the middle of the day where I would write down five things and leave it at that.

- Another issue I had was that it started to get boring for me, always thinking about gratitude. Just plain boring. I didn't always feel like doing it. This taught me to look at these gratitude practices as more of a discipline, like exercising or writing or practicing a sport. Like any discipline, there are going to be days where you don't feel like doing it, but in the long run you'll be better for it. It occurred to me that to get out of a rut, you have to change things up. If you're getting bored with going to the gym every morning, you might try hiking instead so you don't give up exercise altogether. I think practicing gratitude is the same way. I've been composing a list of other more creative ways to experience gratitude. Look for that in a future blog post.

- I don't know if it's possible that an attitude of gratitude has the power to bring more amazing things into our lives, or if it's just a way of tricking our brains into being happy. I suppose either would be fine. I bring this up because the more grateful I am the more it seems like other good things are happening. For example, the biggest challenge for me is being grateful for where I live. I'm constantly complaining about my apartment and the neighborhood, and most of all, the g-damn front gate. When it slams shut, it sounds like two cars crashing into each other, and the gate is right next to my apartment. But I made a point to be thankful for the few things I do like about this place. Long story short, the management company sent someone out to fix the gate because they know how much I hate it and now it doesn't slam shut anymore. It barely makes a noise. I feel like I have my sanity back. Did this happen because I learned to be grateful? Maybe. Is it just pure coincidence? Possibly. Something to pay attention to this month.

- I'm learning that practicing gratitude doesn't mean you'll be happy all day every day. We're still human. We're still going to feel angry or sad or upset. You can find something to be grateful for in a crummy situation while still being upset. I think you can experience both those feelings simultaneously, and that's okay.

Oh man, okay, I have a billion more things to write about, but I'll leave it at this for now. I'll try and write more frequently to keep the posts shorter. Stay tuned! Hope you are all having a month filled with gratitude.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April Gratitude Project - Day 2

So thankful I get to wake up to this little face.

I'm two days into my gratitude challenge. Just to reiterate, I've been waking up every morning and immediately writing down five things I'm thankful for. Then throughout the day I set reminders for myself to write down more things I'm thankful for. Before I go to bed I write down five more things. The point is to create a grateful attitude and see how it makes a difference in my life. Also, when I say "write down" I really mean "type in a Google doc" because it's faster.

Here are some general observations from this challenge, in no particular order:

- Sometimes after I write down something I'm thankful for, I immediately have a negative thought about it. For instance, I was thinking about how grateful I am that so many friends gave me free stuff for my apartment: DVD player, TV, furniture, etc. Then I felt embarrassed that I couldn't just go out and buy all that stuff. I kept thinking I should be in a place where I can afford to buy a fancy, expensive TV. I had to remind myself to stop should-ing all over myself.

- Thinking about all the really unique, happy moments in my life (places I’ve traveled, friendships I’ve made, adventures I've had) makes my heart dance a little because it reminds me that you never know what life will bring your way. Never in a million years did I think I’d make genuine, amazing friends at a karaoke bar in L.A. or travel to places like Italy and the Bahamas. Or get a puppy that stole my heart. You just never know how life is going to surprise you.

- I've also been telling people the reasons I'm grateful for them, and I have to say, it always gets me a little choked up. I think this is definitely what I'm most grateful for in life--amazing human connections. I find I even feel that way toward those who are no longer in my life. I know they were a part of my life for a reason, and that just fills my heart with gratitude.

- Sometimes it’s exhausting to be in a constant state of gratitude. Sometimes it feels like a chore. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m suppose to be grateful for this. Blah, blah blah." That exact thought has run through my brain a few times. It’s hard to appreciate the basics--like a bed. I'll tell myself I'm thankful for my awesome bed, but my feelings of gratitude aren't that strong because I live in a part of the world where most people have beds. It doesn't feel special. I've seen homeless people in this city sleeping on beds! Getting my basic needs met doesn't ignite the same amount of gratitude that my friendships give me. It's odd. Maybe I need to take a trip to a third world country. Or go camping. I bet that would make me happy about my warm bed.

- Then the exact opposite will happen. While sometimes gratitude feels like a chore, other times I can’t type fast enough because there are so many things I’m thankful for. Something will click and I just start reflecting on all the gifts in my life. Sometimes I will even feel an overwhelming sense of joy for what seems like no reason. I won't even be thinking about gratitude and then POW! I feel joyful. This happened a few times while walking down the hallway at work. It felt like it came out of nowhere, but maybe this gratitude thing is contributing to it.

- This sometimes becomes an exercise in mindfulness because when my gratitude reminder goes off on my computer, I immediately start thinking about what I'm grateful for in that moment. It keeps me living in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or fretting about the past.

- Again, it's interesting to see how many negative thoughts go through my brain in a day, and I consider myself to be a relatively positive person. When I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts are usually something like this: I'm tired. I don't want to walk Sam. I don't feel like getting ready for work. I hate this apartment. I don't have anything to make for lunch. etc etc. That kind of talk really sets the tone for the day. So it's been helpful to wake up and make myself write down five things I'm grateful for. It's sometimes hard because I'm so groggy, but I'm usually able to think of things like: I'm thankful for my fluffy pillow and Sammy's little face and the fact that I have a job I like going to and the awesome L.A. weather and the smell of the coffee I'm about to brew.

So there you have it. It's only day two and I'm learning a lot. I'll keep you posted throughout the rest of the month. Thanks for reading, folks. I'm off to bed early tonight. I took a spin class for the first time in 10 years, and it kicked my ass in ways I didn't know it could be kicked.