This article orignally posted on November 15, 2013.
It’s a Friday morning, 6:50 am, and I’m still asleep. With 10 minutes to spare, I leap out of bed to see if my teenage daughter is awake and getting ready to leave for school by 7:00. I find her wandering around the laundry room in her pajamas looking for something to wear. She’s going to miss her bus. As I rush to throw together a lunch for her, I notice I’ve dripped a sticky path of pineapple juice from the fridge to the counter and down the front of my freshly washed pajamas. To add insult to injury, I spill sunflower seeds onto the sticky pineapple juice.
Not the greatest start to my day.
While these mini-catastrophes mean nothing in comparison to the larger problems of the world, these types of experiences happen day in and day out in family life. And if we aren’t careful, they can wear us down and cause us to look at our otherwise wonderful lives through an irritated and gloomy lens.
How do you respond to the daily mini-catastrophes in your life? How much space do you give them in your mind to grow? Do you allow them to dominate your thoughts and overshadow the positive?
Like many people on social media this month leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve been spending a little bit of time on my blog each day chronicling the things I’m grateful for. This “seasonal” activity of recording blessings comes at just the right time as I’ve already been making a concerted effort to see and focus on the good in my everyday life. Writing it down just makes it that much more real.
Interestingly, even if my day has been full of minor irritations (and even some major ones), as I sit down to type up all the good things that happened, I am astonished at just how rosy my life really is. As a person who has suffered off and on over the years from focusing too much on everything that is wrong, I am finally re-training my brain to focus on everything that is right. And gratitude is a great jumping off point for this kind of brain therapy. The better I get at it, the more I realize just how powerful positive self-talk and that “attitude of gratitude” can be on relationships, health, productivity, and everyday happiness.
Whether we realize it or not, how we think affects how we feel, and how we feel affects pretty much everything else. Thankfully, we get to tell our brains what to focus on and think about. Our brains will believe whatever we tell them, so why not tell them we are blessed and awesome and that it’s marvelous to be alive! I don’t know about you, but I really want to be that grateful, positive person. Not just for the example it will set for my children, but for my own personal joy and contentment.
Gratitude, happiness, and contentment really are inseparably connected. I recently purchased a sign for my house that reads, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” It’s easy to think about this only in terms of money and “stuff,” but it also applies to our time, relationships, opportunities, and personal talents. In the words of Melodie Beattie:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
But what does this transformation sound like inside the head of a natural born pessimist? I’ll give you just one example from my mini-catastrophe this morning, and I think you’ll be able to see how it applies to all kinds of situations:
My head: “What a terrible way to start the day! Now you’re going to be behind and in a bad mood. You might as well just throw in the towel right now.”
My unnatural, but very powerful response: “Yes, that was a bit of a rocky start, but it is Friday after all, and we’ve had a lot going on this week. I’m pretty awesome to still get up and make my daughter a healthy lunch and not yell at her for sleeping in. Running late in the morning certainly doesn’t make us bad people or failures, for crying out loud! We’ll do better next week at bedtime and morning routines. I’m just grateful my kids have healthy food to eat and good schools to go to. Now it’s time to get on with the rest of my day!”
Can’t you just feel the difference?
Believe it or not, I do have other things more serious than this to worry about. What happened this morning really is a “minor irritation”, but it’s amazing how many people (like myself) allow their brains to run wild with these things and hijack their happiness as a result. And for what? Take charge of your brain, Mom! Your personal happiness depends on it.
So whether your life is chock-full of minor irritations like a child late for school and spilled pineapple juice, or you have some major issues you’re dealing with, I challenge you to use this Thanksgiving season as an opportunity to rock your “attitude of gratitude” and pump up your positive self-talk. For something as simple as a thought, you may be surprised by the results!
QUESTION: Do you let mini-catastrophes hijack your happiness?
CHALLENGE: Use these days leading up to Thanksgiving to re-train your pessimistic brain by rocking your “attitude of gratitude” and pumping up your positive self-talk.
Thanks for this post! I, too, have let minor catastrophes have a major effect on my day. Just this morning, in fact! I think I’m getting better because instead of wallowing all morning I treated myself to a few extra minutes in the shower to regroup and try again.
I appreciate you articulating this so eloquently — great post.
Perfect example, Beth! Keep it up!
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I really need to work on focusing on the positive. Thanks for the reminder and example!
Your welcome for the reminder, but not always the example. But I will keep trying!
I used to be a pro at accentuating the positive, but it was easy because it came naturally to me. Throw in a whiff of postpartum depression and I’ve had a bugger of a time not letting those mini-catastrophes derail my day, my mood and my happiness. The worst is the trickle-down effect that my sour mood (even if it only lasts ten minutes) has on my kids. I made a new gratitude journal but haven’t found the time to write in it – but thanks to your inspiration I’m going to MAKE the time, tonight! Thanks for the nudge!
And thank YOU for giving ME the nudge to get back on my blog and catch up on the past few days. I really need a moment to focus on the positive and express gratitude because today has been a doozy!
I like this a lot. It works well for all those regular frustrations.
You alluded to major catastrophes as well. I’m in the middle of one and trying to find ways to be grateful in the midst of great crisis. Any hints on dealing with real big problems? I know survival mode is sometimes all I can do but I’d like to figure out a way to find joy in life even with crises.
Oh, man. I am NOT the person to ask! I get derailed pretty easily, which is why I’m working on this. The next time I have a major (and not minor) catastrophe I would really like to be better equipped. One thing that does come to mind, though, is to not let the catastrophe define you and take over every other aspect of your life. If there is any possible way to compartmentalize the catastrophe and allow yourself to be happy in other areas, maybe that could help? So sorry you are struggling with a big one. Hang in there.
Thanks for this reminder. It seems like gratitude is a life lesson I’ve had to learn a couple times already, and yet lately I’vebeen wanting to wallow in my problems instead of be grateful. I need to take that extra effort to make my life happier!
One of the best articles I have read. I loved it so much I shared it with my family tonight. So much useful info in such a short read. So well written and loved everything you shared. Thank you for writing this article. My family needed this.