As you know, I launched the Pozible campaign for the diary yesterday! Hooray! If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure you have a looksee. It’s taken a lot of work but I’m pretty proud of it.
I wrote a piece about what got me started on this whole gratitude thing a few weeks ago, so now seems like a good time to post it.
Have you ever had an eye test? You take your glasses off or remove your contact lenses and sit in a big chair in a dark room. The optometrist asks you to look through a bulky contraption and then slots a series of different lenses into it, asking “Better? Or worse?” as you try to read the letters on the illuminated chart on the far wall. Gradually the letters start to resolve until finally, you can see clearly.
I’ve struggled with depression for a number of years now, and one of the things that depression does is distort your mental view so that everything is blurred and you can’t imagine ever seeing clearly again. The way depression showed up in me was that everything seemed bleak and pointless, all I could focus on was what I didn’t have, what I wasn’t, what I was failing at, but I couldn’t seem to care about it. Our world is already geared to make us focus on the lack; everything around us tells us we need to do more, be more, get more. Depression just adds one more layer on top of that and says, “well guess what? You can’t do, be or get anything more because you are worthless, so don’t bother trying.”
I’m happy to say that these days I am managing my depression reasonably well, with the help of a number of tools, a little like the many lenses in an eye test, that help me see things more clearly. That’s not to say that there aren’t dark days, but they don’t extend into dark weeks and months anymore. And one of the most helpful lenses? Practising gratitude.
I’d been reading about gratitude and hearing talks on the topic, but I think it was listening to the audiobook of Ann Voskamp’s One thousand gifts that was my tipping point. Up until then practising gratitude had seemed like such an ephemeral concept. But Voskamp described giving thanks for the tiniest things in her everyday life as well as big things. She delighted in how much giving thanks changed her mindset, how it helped her get through the hardest days, how it helped her to see the beauty and richness in the life God had given her. It seemed there was substance to what she was doing and it was making a substantial difference to her life.
I was listening to this book during a period when I had a 50 minute drive to work each day, surrounded by giant trucks and aggressive drivers, on one of Sydney’s busiest roads. Being stuck in traffic is not conducive to positive thinking. My thoughts would usually turn to the stresses of work, the sadness induced by a failed relationship, anxiety about the other drivers around me, an immovable fatigue. I would arrive at work or get home feeling flat and unmotivated. But on the drive home one day, I decided to give this gratitude practice a try.
I asked myself, “What are you grateful for today?”
Almost instantly, a list of things started scrolling through my head. I’m grateful for my job. I’m grateful for the people I work with. I’m grateful to have a car. I’m grateful to have a home to go to. I’m grateful to that other driver who just smiled and waved at me when I let her in. I’m grateful for the colour streaked across the sky as the sun sets. I’m grateful that the lights are on when I get home. I’m grateful that my cat runs to greet me. I’m grateful that my mum is there to hug me. Without even trying, what had been a grey commute had become full of colour.
I was stunned by the simplicity of it. It required no special training. It required no money. It required no program. It simply required me using a different lens to refocus on the good instead of the bad, to help me see things as they really were.
I started blogging lists of things I was grateful for every day and just that regular practice changed my whole way of thinking. I started to see beauty everywhere. I started to appreciate people more. Even on dark days, I could find something to be grateful for, no matter how small.
I’ve been trying to encourage other people to get into this practice too. I started a blog and a Facebook page where I ask people “what are you grateful for today?” I hope that just by asking the question I’m reminding people to look at their lives through the gratitude lens, even if only for a second. It might be the difference between greyness and colour, between a dark day and one with a glimmer of light in it.
So what are you grateful for today?