Monday, May 16, 2011
"I can find gratitude in anything!"
"Anything?" queried my incredulous friend.
"ANYthing!" I asserted, "Name it - I'll find a reason to be grateful for it."
Needless to say my friend was doubtful. So much so that she challenged me to spend the weekend looking for the holes in my belief.
But I had no doubt I could do it. When people ask me what was the very first thing I did to begin the transformation journey that culminated in a loss of 85lbs, they expect to hear about discovering an exercise I didn't hate or discovering the magic pill that everyone is convinced exists. They are not prepared for my true answer - I began to pursue gratitude.
Gratitude is both a pervasive and elusive thing in our culture. Mothers everywhere try to drill it into their children's heads. Last night on the train, a rambunctious 3 year old sat (stood, jumped, crawled, wiggled) across from me. Revved up following a professional lacrosse game, he was bouncing. I engaged him like any good grandmother would and he kept playing Conductor - asking me repeatedly for my ticket, play stamping it, then returning it to me - over and over again. Every time I handed it to him, he said "thank you" with enthusiasm. Then he said it again when he handed it back. And when his mother gave him a sucker. And his dad gave him his cheering towel. He, at 3, was well versed in his "thank you's"!
But, like so many of us, somewhere between 3 and 23, the meaning of thank you began to elude me - even as I continued to say it. Instead of seeking reasons to be grateful, I was like my well trained 3 year old self - saying thank you frequently throughout the day but feeling thankful less and less as life's burdens piled up. Big tragedies, small annoyances, minor inconveniences, large losses - they laid the foundation of feeling that the world was simply a tough and difficult place to be and my best bet was to simply try to get through it. Which I did - largely by filling my plate with all kinds of artificial happiness and digging in.
I don't remember exactly the catalyst for beginning to keep a gratitude list. I know I was deeply unhappy and looking for something positive to get me out of my rut. I started with just 3 items a day. For the first 10 days, those daily gratitudes were both rote and mundane. "I'm grateful for my husband. I'm grateful for my children. I'm grateful to live in a free country." All true, but, after 10 days of repetition, already boring.
Like many diets started on many Monday mornings, I was at risk of giving it up. So - I mixed it up. It had to be 3 things to be grateful for that had happened that day. This is much more challenging; as I sat with my journal at night reviewing the events of the day, I struggled to find any joy in a difficult commute, a slightly crazed and difficult boss, a 5 hour unproductive meeting, an overful dinner plate, a night spent slackjawed in front of the TV. But I did. Something in this challenge clicked for me.
It wasn't long before I realised that to have something to write at night, I was going to have to look for it all day long. Do you have any idea of what happens when you look for reasons to feel grateful all day long? You find it.
Difficult commute? Hey, I got there with no accidents! Or the lights were green 50% of the time! Crazed boss? Woo hoo, he left early! 5 hour meeting? I got my shopping list made out and planned my vacation in my head! No matter what came up, I started believing that something good might come out of it.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion - I know there's chemistry involved but I'm not that interested in its science. Mostly I'm interested in its powerful impact on my spirit. When I started this gratitude work 8 years ago, I wasn't sure who I was thanking. Now I know that I am sending my gratitude out into the universe as positive energy that is going to come back to me someday. And it does - like a clear, vibrational force that centers and fills me with a deep, abiding, self love. Those of you who know me, know I believe that the magic pill of weight loss is a self love so strong, you would do anything to protect it from harm and that includes taking care of your body through healthy food and exercise choices..
So - did I manage my friend's challenge? Indeed - let me share the toughest example:
I wore 3" heels for 12 hours on Friday neglecting to remember the huge amount of walking I would be doing. In addition to limping to the train on painful, swollen feet, I suffered a quarter sized blister on my toe. I slipped my shoes off on the train, and couldn't get them back on thanks to the instant increase in swelling. I was sitting on the train, exhausted, barefoot and blistered - what could I possible find to be grateful for in that?
First - I'm grateful that I can wear heels - unheard of at 221 lbs!
Second - I'm grateful for the blister because it reminded me that there are always consequences to choice! And, by choosing anything, you choose the outcome and I am so grateful for choice!
Third - the path from the train station to the car was paved and clean and I could get there barefoot - thank you GO train maintenance guys!
Finally - at 51, I don't care if people stare at me walking barefoot in the rain across a parking lot!
Yes - I can find any reason to feel grateful. What are you grateful for today?