An exercise in gratitude for the Thanksgiving season to use when you feel like your life sucks.

I am a big fan of gratitude.  Although sometimes it may appear to be a catchy, new-agey theory that having gratitude is good for you, the truth is that when practiced regularly finding the time to be thankful for the little things in life can be life changing.  When you get into the habit of focusing on the positive, more positive seems to show up.  The explanations for this vary, they go from  magic, or a miracle, to the Law of Attraction where you literally manifest what you want in life.  I’m more of a sciency, objective type of person.  For me it simply makes sense that if we are looking for things to be grateful for, we are more likely to see them and be ready to appreciate them when they come our way.  Let’s take this scenario taken from my very real life.

Situation 1- I have not been practicing gratitude, in fact it’s been a long, exhausting, negative day and I am having negative thoughts about everything.  I arrive home from work and my husband is at the sink washing the dishes and the negative thoughts just continue on, merrily.  “Oh, NOW he wants to wash the dishes.  He lets them sit around for weeks, waiting for me to wash them or until they magically wash themselves.”  And I probably say thank you in a sarcastic, passive-aggressive, snarky tone and head to the couch to sulk and think about how crappy his dish-washing timing is.  This is, by the way, a serious example in my life.

Situation 2- I have been practicing gratitude, I have had a trying day, but have been looking for the positive.  I come home and my husband is at the sink washing dishes.  On this occasion, I can walk in the door, thank him for washing the dishes and go relax on the couch for a few minutes knowing that the dishes are being washed.  The only difference in the two days is my attitude when I walked in the door.

So- now we know, gratitude is awesome and worthwhile!  And just as we bring in the New Year with our fitness, health, career and life goals, we bring in the Thanksgiving season with reminders of gratitude.  “What are you thankful for?” is the catchy phrase that’s being thrown around recently.  The newest status trend on Facebook is to list all of the things you are grateful for that start with the corresponding letter of the day (1=A, 2=B, etc).  Although the gratitude trend may not last beyond the holiday, I do think 30 days a year of gratitude is better than zero and it’s a great start to what could become a habitual practice.

Some days it’s easier said than done.  Have you been there?  There you are, having a shitty day- your child barfed on you in the morning so you changed your pants, then you accidentally spilled coffee into your lap in the car, didn’t notice until you got to work that you forgot to brush your teeth, had a long passive aggressive conversation with a co-worker that took up all of your free time including any time you had to run out and grab lunch, then you got stuck in ungodly traffic on the way home.  You know, those kind of days.  Then you get home and call a friend because you just need to vent to someone and they say something along the lines of, “Just be thankful for what you have.”  Well, THANK YOU, very much, you (insert expletive of choice here).

On this kind of day I have a quick exercise that works well to adjust your thinking back to what you have in life, even if you don’t particularly feel like it.

1. Find somewhere to be alone, not in front of the tv, phone, or computer.  These are all distracting and are guaranteed to remind you of some more things that you could possibly be angry about.

2. Sit still for a few moments.  If you are a practiced meditator, now is a really good time.  If you are like me, and have difficulty shutting your brain off (the yoga peeps call this monkey mind), don’t fight it.  Just sit still for a few moments.  Take a few deep breaths.

3. State your intention (ideally out loud, yes, speak to yourself) to find three things you can be grateful for.

4. Start thinking.  If your meditation and deep breaths helped you calm down, you should be able to come up with a few good ones on your own here.  However, sometimes we’re really stuck.  If that’s the case, look around you.  The stories in our heads can keep us from finding the good in our lives, but often physical items around us can trigger a memory.

5.  If you’re really stuck here, and you are stewing in negativity, then this exercise is really important for you.  You need to get unstuck or go take a nap, because if you’re at this place, you might not want to be around people.  Force yourself to focus on an item that you see in your physical space.  A tree, a piece of paper, a sock on the floor, a piece of lint on your pants, a dresser in your room, a chair.  Anything.  And find 3 things about that object to be thankful for.  For example- the chair under my bottom at this very moment.  This chair is ripped, but it has lasted me for almost 9 years.  I am thankful that I have it to sit on.  Sometimes I will think of something I need to write at the computer, but my husband has wheeled it away from the desk for some reason and I’ll kneel in front of the computer on the floor and that, my friends, is painful.  I am grateful for its ability to hold me up to the desk and keep the pressure off of my knees.  It has a lever on the side that I can push on and it allows me to adjust the height.  It is tall enough in the back that I can lead my head back against it when I have writer’s block.  It is made of a feaux leather material that is cooling, and doesn’t get your bottom all sweaty when it’s hot and humid here.  It has armrests.  What more could you want in a 9 year old desk chair?

This exercise can be done at any time during the day.  Look around for an object and think of all the redeeming qualities it possesses.  Feel free to stretch a bit, sometimes the fun of it will knock you out of your bitter mood.  Maybe that lint is a lovely shade of yellow.  Perhaps it is making a smiley-face or appears in the shape of a unicorn.  Maybe the lint reminds you of something.  Get creative.

If that doesn’t work, look at this picture of this dog chewing on a kitten’s face:

Puppy Chewing on Kitten
Puppy Chewing on Kitten

I hope you enjoy this exercise.  What other methods do you use to stay thankful over the holiday season?

Author: Mary Preston, LMFT

I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Life Coach. Through dealing with my own anxiety and attention difficulties over the years I have discovered many useful practices and tools to help regain focus, shift my attention to what’s important and to stay organized enough to get the life that I want. In my practice I work primarily with women and children with Anxiety, ADHD and Depression and I share what I’ve learned to get them back on track to living a full, purpose filled life.

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