It’s often the case that as soon as you decide to make a change to your habits the biggest temptation you could imagine almost immediately presents itself.
You decide to go on a diet and on the first day of said diet a colleague brings in some homemade birthday cake – your favourite variety and it’s expertly baked. EVERYONE is having some. It would seem rude not to partake and would draw attention to the fact that you are trying to lose weight…
I’ll start again tomorrow.
You decide you are going to start running every day. The first morning you get up, put on your spanking new Sweaty Betty kit, put your bluetooth earphones in, turn on Map My Run, open the front door and it’s chucking it down…
I’ll try again tomorrow.
When you think about it it’s obvious you will come up against these obstacles to your good intentions. Cake is not suddenly going to evaporate when you decide you will no longer eat it (sadly). The UK isn’t suddenly going to change its climate and become more like the south of France just because you want to get up at the crack of dawn and run with as little discomfort as possible (also sadly).
To successfully change what you want to change means you have to expect struggle and persevere when circumstances make it a difficult choice.
Very soon after posting about my intention to adopt an attitude of gratitude I experienced a major test and I learnt a few things.
I got sick. Nothing serious; a cold virus. But it hung around for two weeks before developing into tonsillitis. It obviously wanted to go out with a bang. My husband also got it all but on a slight time delay. So I would feel rotten and plough on looking forward to a certain day that he would available to take the load off, to find he was feeling just as rotten, if not worse. I’m not going to make a man-flu joke because he was still very helpful.
Ultimately, how much rest can you get when you’re parents of young children, when you can’t afford to miss any time off of your part-time job, when you have to study, when you have a child’s birthday to plan… and so-on. To add to that my son was ill in the same sort of way for the same duration. He would go to school but come home exhausted and two weekends in a row we basically did nothing and saw few humans outside of our sickly inner circle.
Another welcome addition was my daughter developing an infection in the nail bed of her thumb. Something I’d not seen before but the best antibiotic to treat it tastes like sin and we had to get it down her four times a day, when her stomach was empty (three-year-olds eat all the time!), for five days. This was exactly when I was feeling at my worst with tonsillitis.
I hardly see people or do anything fun for two weeks. I’m letting people down who I’ve agreed to babysit for. I cancel a work meeting. I then cancel the rescheduled one. I don’t just feel lonely and unwell, I feel like a letdown. Guilty. I feel unproductive. I have one overriding thought:
What the heck can I be grateful for right now?
It made me reflect on two ways I can approach being grateful that aren’t helpful and are highlighted when life drops some hefty cow pats in my path.
What I SHOULD be grateful for
When trying to get yourself out of a sick-person-grump, do you make yourself think of your friend with a long-term illness? Or even try to make yourself grateful to be alive?
Does it help?
I tend to find… it doesn’t. Ever. It feels like it’s dismissive of what, in my world, is difficult and unpleasant. Comparing oneself rarely produces a positive outcome, even if you’re striving for gratitude. It’s also sometimes too big to engage with emotionally. Yes, often telling yourself it’s a privilege to be alive is a great thing to do to help your perspective.
But when you are feeling horrendous and you trudge through the pouring rain to the pharmacy to get your daughter antibiotics because your anxiety is irrationally pressing on you that if you don’t get it ASAP she might get sepsis, and you arrive at 13:05 to find the pharmacist goes on lunch between 13:00 and 14:00…
“Well, at least you’re not dead.” Just doesn’t cut the mustard.
I’ve learned that to maintain a grateful and therefore joyful and positive outlook means to be continually searching for the small things I’m grateful for. There are always many and in this case, it’s the quantity rather than quality that has the greatest overall impact.
Why do we put pressure on ourselves to feel grateful about certain things? Well, we can forget we are doing this for ourselves. For our benefit. For our quality of life. Not to impress, not to prove something, not so as to appear UN-grateful for our privileged lot in life. This is why I am not sharing my gratitude on social media. I don’t think it’s inappropriate but, for me, this won’t have the impact I want it to have unless I’m doing it 100% for myself. Otherwise I risk gratitude that isn’t genuine but is what I think I SHOULD be grateful for.
What I WANT to feel grateful about
This is ultimately the source of my discontent. Without thinking about it, I stipulate what I’m willing to be grateful for. I tell myself that a good outcome looks like A and so B, C, D… right through to Z are all disappointments. Why should I be grateful when A did not occur?
What if we were grateful for struggle? What if we were grateful for constructive criticism? What if we were grateful for the rain because it’s essential for so many life-sustaining things? What if we were grateful for rest? What if we were grateful for the times when all our body is willing to do is sit and stare into space? What if we were grateful for the mistake that helps us learn?
When I’m ill I am only willing to be grateful for two things:
- Feeling better.
- Being able to rest.
But an attitude of gratitude says there is always something to be grateful for. No matter what, because it’s actually a choice rather than circumstantially dependant.
A relative of mine lost her husband of over 60 years last April. Two days ago would have been his birthday. The first since he died. I can’t comprehend what it must be like after celebrating that day for over 60 years with that person, to be alone. She had made plans with someone but they didn’t work out at the last minute and she ended up spending the day alone.
She said to me: “I was disappointed, but I thought to myself, no, Lord you are with me and I’m going to have a good day.”
She then went to a place she had never visited before. She raved about the beautiful weather, the lovely countryside she’d never driven through before. She had a meal by herself, which she thoroughly enjoyed. I felt deeply moved as she told her story.
And the most grateful person I’m privileged to know.