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Friday, March 23, 2012

Gratitude Lists

So it's been a rough couple of years for me and my family. Not because of anything that has happened, but because of what, thanks to modern medical science, we know is going to happen. And though I  keep telling myself that there is no need to feel bad about it now, that there is plenty of time in the future to feel bad about it when it does happen, I have not been able to shake my worries and sadness.

You know that party game you play...if (fill in the blank) were going to happen, would you want to know beforehand? Well, I now know the answer to that for myself, regardless of what (fill in the blank) is. No, I don't want to know, not anything.

So for the past couple of years two recurrent thoughts have popped unbidden into my mind several times a day. Several times a day. Every day. One is "Nothing good is ever going to happen to me again" and the other is "I hate my life." The truth is that when I observe these thoughts consciously, I don't believe either of them. Yet until a few months ago they popped into my head repeatedly. Repeatedly. Did I mention, repeatedly? And daily. (Oh, and these thoughts are centered on me, when the looming problem doesn't even belong to me, but to someone I love. How messed up is that?)

As far as unbidden thoughts go, one could do better. Thinking about this, I remembered advice I read a long time ago about gratitude. About how the single best way to improve your attitude about your life is to practice gratitude. About how people required to write each day in a notebook a list of five things they were grateful for reported satisfaction with their lives to be significantly higher than before beginning this month-long experiment.

A month-long experient: I could do that. And so I started to think about five things I was grateful for each day. Or, I did it on the days I remembered. And it helped, but only a little bit. Only when I remembered. So I decided to write them down in one of my notebooks, when I remembered to. And that helped a bit more. And I remembered a bit more often to do it. But weeks would go by when I would forget, or I would just think my gratitude instead of going to where the notebook was and writing it down.

Then, in January, I decided to do it right. I got a dedicated gratitude notebook and I started writing down my lists. I love lists; I have a special place I keep all my lists and I refer to that place several times a day. So it wasn't really any big deal to add another list; it was kind of a pleasure actually. Why had I not been doing it already?

So here's the upshot: I write my gratitude list throughout the day, every day. And it's been more than a month since I've thought either of my unbidden thoughts. Well, I thought one yesterday and marvelled at how long it had been since I had thought it. And I was grateful for that. And I wrote it down.


Jeannine said...

Dear Jessica, remember the worst things that might happen, might also not happen. As someone who is constantly reminded by my doctors that the statistics are against me, it is important for me to forget everything they tell me when I confront each day. I like Lucille Clifton line from her "eve" poem, "each day soemthing has tried to kill me and failed."
Thinking good thoughts for you.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jeannine. I like that Lucille Clifton poem too; it's true for just about everybody. We are all muddling along against great odds; it's just that some of us know it. You inspire me with your positivity.

Claire said...

Thank you for sharing this, Jessica. Life is an utter bummer sometimes, but we have no choice but to keep going. I've started following your example this morning (on the computer rather than in a notebook, as that's where I spend nearly all my time). Ganbarou ...

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Claire,
You know what is so effective about writing it down? The days when you are staring at your list and can't think of anything to write, your eyes wander to last week's lists and you remember the things that made your grateful and realize you are still grateful for them.
Hope your rough times are eased as days/weeks/months/years pass.

drew said...

Your gratitude practice is wonderful -- and moves me to get more grateful.

Each week on my blog I offer Thankful Thursday, but to be honest, some weeks are more difficult than others -- and it is in those times, when I am honest with myself but still trying -- that I feel most thankful.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog, Drew. Thankful Thursday as a public expression of gratitude is wonderful. And uplifting to others. Good for you.