The Attitude Shift That Happens When You Practice Gratitude
Today began like any other day. I pressed snooze on my alarm for about 30 minutes and attempted to snuggle up to my fiance, only to feel my cat chewing on the ends of my hair. I swatted him away a couple of times and then finally rolled out of bed just to put an end to his chewing and incessant whining to be fed. (If you’re a cat owner, you know this is how you spend 99.9% of your mornings.) I hopped in the shower, fed Laz, ate a quick bowl of Raisin Bran while Cody ate his pumpkin spice oatmeal (who would’ve thought I’d marry someone even more basic than me?), kissed him goodbye as he left for class, then got myself dressed, fixed my morning Earl Grey tea to go, kissed Laz goodbye a dozen times, and headed out the door for my 45-minute-to-an-hour-long commute.
The commute. Oh, the dreaded daily commute. The time it takes to get to and from work depends entirely on how many wrecks have occurred and how much construction is going on. And right now there’s a ton of construction; they keep shutting down one of the three lanes on the interstate, so it’s been a bit miserable lately.
Couple that with the fact that I got a taste of working remote when Cody and I moved to Oklahoma City earlier this year—no daily commute, no outfits to pick out, I didn’t even style my hair or put on a drop of makeup most days. It was a pretty sweet deal. But his job in OKC didn’t work out, and with my job responsibilities and our upcoming wedding, we both knew moving back home to good ol’ Arkansas was our best option. Cody started school at the Arkansas Coding Academy, and although I work in Little Rock, I have the more reliable car—so we settled in Conway. And thus commenced the dreaded commute.
I’m not a huge music person (I know, I know, stone me in the streets about it), so I knew I would need something other than Spotify to pass the time spent in my car. When I got bored of my favorite podcasts, I began borrowing audiobooks from my local library’s app to pass the time. So far I’ve listened to The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (which was...fine; you can read my full review on GoodReads), The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, Life Will Be the Death of Me by Chelsea Handler, and I’m now currently listening to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (I know, I’m super late to the game on that one).
And suddenly I started looking forward to my commute. It’s hard for me to make the time to sit down and crack open a book, but here I was, listening to the words some of my favorite authors and comedians had written. Instead of looking at my commute as a hindrance or a waste of time, I chose to view it as an opportunity I didn’t have before to check off all those books that had been sitting on my “to read” list for months (for some, years).
And then I found a new back-way to take to the interstate, and as it turns to my favorite season and the leaves change colors, my commute is now beautiful and—surprise, surprise—enjoyable. That hour in the car also comes in handy when I need to work through some shit, too. Sometimes I use it to cry and get every last tear out before I get to work, sometimes I talk to God or my dead cat Bear, and sometimes I have a fake conversation with someone and fake cuss them out. It’s very therapeutic.
So back to this morning. It was chilly when I got outside; the air was crisp, it was the perfect fall morning, and I was happily rocking a soft Target sweater. I got in my car, turned on Big Magic, and let Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice soothe me the whole way to work. (Seriously, she could read the dictionary and it would still soothe my soul.) Then I got out of my car and started my longish walk to the office. Halfway there I looked down and noticed something gross on the inside of my thigh.
A BIRD HAD TAKEN A BIG OL’ SHADOOBIE ON MY JEANS. I had literally washed them just two days before and now there was BIRD POOP on them. And it was—I repeat—ON THE INSIDE OF MY THIGH. How does that even happen?! I didn’t feel a thing! The aim, the artistry!
But instead of letting it ruin my day, I laughed. I thought to myself, Well, that means good luck, right? I washed it off as soon as I got inside the building and quickly proceeded to tell all my co-workers that I did not, in fact, wet myself, even though that’s 100% what it looked like. We had a good laugh, and then I sat down and got to work.
The point is that a few months ago, that bird pooping on me would’ve ruined my entire day. I would’ve already been in a terrible mood from having to drive an hour to get to work, frustrated with the construction and traffic, and that bird would’ve been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Heck, on a different day it still could’ve ruined my day if I’m being completely honest. I’m only human, and some days I can be a total rage monster. But the reason it didn’t today? My attitude.
Our attitudes make all the difference in whether or not we have a good or bad day. Your attitude, the way you choose to react (or not react) to things, is a choice you make. This isn’t a revolutionary concept, I know; we’ve all heard this advice our whole lives. But I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a funk this year, and I’m finally choosing to pull myself out of it.
A shift in attitude is key, but you also have to put gratitude into practice for it to really take effect. According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, “Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant.”
So how do you start practicing gratitude? A couple of years ago I started a gratitude journal. When I first decided to start one, I was pretty skeptical; I thought I’d be shocked if I had just one good thing to write down each day. But once I started, the gratitude just flowed out of me. I had 20 things to write down each day, and I would find myself dying to journal every time something good happened.
(I’m also going to self-promote for two seconds and add that the first book I co-wrote, You Goal, Girl, has a space designated specifically for gratitude journaling. You can purchase it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million; pretty much anywhere books are sold!)
Unfortunately, life happens, and I fall off the gratitude bandwagon more than I would like to admit. I’ve gone months without writing before, and that’s when I really find myself in a huge funk. And I’m clearly not alone with that result; UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center conducted a study on 300 adults with anxiety and depression and found that those who kept a gratitude log reported “significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.”
We’re negative by nature; it takes work and consistency to really change our perspective. But I find that it’s becoming easier and easier for me. On my walk to work this morning, I stopped, let the wind whip through my hair, stood in awe of the beauty of fall, and just appreciated the fact that I get to witness this scenery each day. I took several pictures of the trees with their golden leaves, and I wished that damned bird would’ve reappeared so I could give him kudos on his aim. After all, that shit could’ve ended up in my hair—and then this might’ve been a completely different story.
Disclaimer: I know that comparatively my problems must seem mundane and privileged, and they definitely are. But this is the only life I know, and I know that a lot of people can relate no matter how minute the “problems” in my life are. So if you cannot relate, that’s fine! I encourage you to start your own blog about your life and your problems, because the world needs your voice too.
Another disclaimer: I am not a doctor and am not by any means suggesting that a gratitude log is the end-all-be-all solution to mental health problems. Please don’t stop taking your medicine because a bird pooped on me and I didn’t care!