The New Year came and went and for the first time I didn’t make any resolutions. Now, with the year nearly half over, and with everyone well on the path to either accomplishing their resolutions, or throwing them out completely, I’m planning on making one resolution and taking the steps to make it stick. I am going to start a gratitude list.
The use of a gratitude list to elevate one’s psychological state (happiness or contentment) is well known, well documented, and is definitely not news. It is one of many things that are included on other people’s list of resolutions, but never on mine. I am happy. I am content. At least I thought so, until today while I was driving home with my husband after dinner with friends.
While we were enjoying the company of our friends, we each shared the big things that had happened in our lives since we’d last spoken to each other. One friend had been in an accident in a car he had purchased just four weeks earlier. Another friend wanted out of her current job and had been on two interviews. Another friend had just returned from a graduate school trip to Guatemala.
When it came time for me to say what we had been up to, I told our group of friends that we had, after a two and a half year battle with our homeowner’s association, finally tented our condo to treat the termites that had destroyed our bamboo floor.
I also said that while we were required to leave our home for three days to complete the fumigation, we had stayed in a hotel with bed bugs, and my husband, we discovered, was allergic to them and was all swollen and itchy.
Lastly, I told them that I’d found another lump in my breast similar to the one that I had found last year that I had to get tested, retested, and retested again in what was one of many health scares for my husband and I in the past few years.
On the drive home I said, “Why does it always have to be something? Why can’t things just go perfectly for a while?” I realized as soon as those words left my mouth, that I tend to focus on the negative things happening in our life and ignore the positive. I was stunned by my flash of insight into my personality, and the way I handle life’s problems.
As I said earlier, I would definitely describe myself as happy. I feel that I am more than content, and actually thankful for the life I have, but when difficult situations arise (and they arise frequently), it is the details of those difficult situations that I focus on. When I realized this was true of me, I immediately decided that I needed to change this habit and avoid a cycle of bitterness or self-pity.
The reality of life is that difficult things do come up all the time; my dad just had open heart surgery and my mother is battling cancer, but if I put the difficult things side by side with the wonderful or positive things the lists don’t even compare. The list of positive things is so long I can’t complete it. The list of difficult things is very short. To focus most of my attention on the things that are hard, and ignore the long list of amazing and positive things is detrimental to happiness, thankfulness, and my overall wellbeing.
I know I am coming to the benefits of a gratitude list very late, but I am grateful that I have finally arrived at the door of thanksgiving, and a thanksgiving that lasts all year not just one day with turkey and pumpkin pie.