Life, in Gratitude and Battle

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I have an experiment for you. You may have heard this one before but stick with me and I'll explain the difference this time’s going to make. 

Tonight, before you go to bed, open your Notes app in your phone and quickly jot down 3 things (we’ll call these “3 Things”) that you are grateful for that happened today.

Choose things that are specific to today - not things that are consistent every day of your life (for example, “I’m thankful for my job” isn’t quite what we’re looking for because it’s too general and unspecific to today. Maybe you include it in your 3 Things if there is a day someone calls you to let you know she lost her job).

Okay, I’ll start first. The things I’m grateful for that happened today are (I’ll do 4, just to help with examples):

  • I’m grateful I had a good phone call with a potential business partner
  • I’m grateful I had the opportunity to run outside
  • I’m grateful my roommate left me some bacon to snack on
  • I’m grateful I had my apartment to myself today

You get the idea. Just the simplest of pleasures. I find the simpler I get with this experiment, the more deeply I appreciate the little things. Appreciating the little things = more things to appreciate = happier more often. We don’t need something so grand to be grateful for. 

If you want to include any of the big ones that are consistent, like your husband or your child or your job, include them as items #4, #5 and #6, in addition to the original, simpler, 3 Things. 

Why are we doing this?

Let’s take a step back, and a deep one. I think we’re all struggling with battles. There are these walls that were built up long ago that prevent us from doing what we want. We have these old programs, for whatever reason (maybe from parents, school, or friends), that became these voices in our head today, steering us in certain directions. Directions we sometimes don’t really want to go. Directions we go for other people, or for ease, or because it seems like the right thing to do, or because everyone else is doing it, or there’s quick money in it, etc. 

For whatever reason, there’s something in our head telling us this is the way instead of the way we actually want to go.

Take a second to soak that one in. Does this ring a bell to you? Have you ever gone down a path that is not the one you wanted for your one, precious life? This is a big deal.

You see, what we’re doing is bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of life we’re living... in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same things. It’s all retch and no vomit. It never gets there.
And so, therefore, it is so important to consider this question: ‘What do I desire?’
— Alan Watts

Well, as the good, optimistic and self-preserving people we are, we don’t just give in to this realization and become defeated by it. We may go down these paths or choose things we’re not crazy about, but isn’t there then this battle we fight within our minds almost every day? A battle to break down the boundaries we built, to rise to the challenge, to carve a new path for ourselves and get a little step closer to what we want. 

I’m talking about when we have thoughts like: “Do I say ‘No’ to getting a drink with a friend so I can start building my website?” or “I know I majored in business but I’d really like to go back to school and take nights classes for nutrition.”

That’s called fighting the good fight, my friend. You’re fighting this battle even if it’s merely a matter of thoughts stirring in your head right now. They’re still stirring and moving about and catching energy. And that is honoring them. And guess what - you’re probably going to do something about them. You’re thinking about talking with your boss, you’re thinking of applying, you’re thinking about moving to a different neighborhood. Now, it’s just a matter of time.

So if you are one of these people and everything I’ve said so far resonates with you, know that I get it and know you are understood. Know that you are slowly unraveling an identity… as you slowly build another… while dealing with the things life throws at you in real time - mental and physical processes at the same time. That’s a lot!

In battles it’s important to build momentum. Physical practice is momentum for a marathon or a boxing fight. In the case of this mental battle, your mental momentum is gratitude for what you have done. Acknowledgement of your progress.

So we need to take a step back and give ourselves a pat on the back. Be grateful for everything we have come through. And everything we won’t stop fighting for. Everything we won’t stop fighting to become. Yes, maybe slowly. Maybe not grandly. Maybe not perfectly or clearly. Yes, maybe more quietly. 

Right now it’s simply the little voice that says keep going. Yes, let’s be grateful for that.

The science behind it all:

A few years ago, all in one night I parted from my job, my home, my relationship and the west coast of the country. I was also dealing with some health issues. I had a tough time. But I wrote my 3 Things every night. And doing that was a quiet but absolute game changer. The practice sent me to sleep in appreciation, started an 8-hour subconscious of appreciation and created a morning of it. Slowly, appreciation became my life.

We’re all aware, now, that practicing affirmations (stating a positive thing about yourself repeatedly) is psychologically proven to boost self-improvement and create more happiness. And so the same goes with gratitude statements. Instead of the simple affirmation “I am smart,” gratitude statements go further to say “Thank you for letting me be this way.” This extra piece re-wires your brain to specifically acknowledge that there’s something good about the way you are. That's an additional layer of positive psychology, and that extra bit goes a long way. 

So what better day to start the 3 Things experiment than Thanksgiving? Start tonight, then do the same thing tomorrow night. And do it every night for one week. You’ll be done next Thursday unless you want to keep going. 

For you, it may be one of those things in which after you stop you notice the difference it made when you were doing it (you know, similar to cutting bread from your diet. You don’t notice the benefits while you’re avoiding bread, instead you notice you feel tired and bloated when you start eating it again).

Or maybe you notice the benefits of this experiment right away.

Either way, take this moment to have gratitude for the good fight you’re fighting and be grateful for the choices you’ve made to be the good person that you are, because I’m pretty sure you’re the type of person that’s not going to give up.

And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson