The concept of gratitude has been thrown around for a few years now. As a cynic, it kind of makes me frown, say ‘pffffft’ a lot and get even more cynical.
I tried the whole gratitude journal/list thing – several times, in fact. I had an app, a little notebook, but nothing seemed to stick – I couldn’t ‘feel’ any difference with this gratitude thing.
Plus, I kind of thought that letting myself wallow in whatever negative, emotional, anxious state I was in was important to feel it and move past it, rather than trying to gloss over it with gratitude.
But a recent experience changed all that.
My boyfriend went on holiday without me (*sob*), which totally triggered my ‘I get abandoned by men’ issues. My anxiety started to peak the week or two before he left, and didn’t subside until a couple of days after he had departed, when I began to settle down and enjoy having the house to myself.
During the peak of the anxiety, I reached for my Kindle. When things feel like they’re going wrong, I tend to buy things, namely supplements and/or books, so I have quite the collection of Kindle books to assist in situations like these. Example titles include: ‘Self-Compassion’, ‘How to change anxious attachment’, ‘Toxic parents’, ‘You’re not crazy. It’s your mother’ – you get the idea.
I tapped into Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff. I hadn’t looked at it for well over a year and was about two thirds of the way through. It connected with me instantly and where I was in that moment. I felt much more able to connect with the ideas and suggestions, and for some reason when Neff approached the idea of the gratitude journal, it didn’t feel quite so fluffy and fake.
For one thing, she provided detailed information about studies where people had utilised a gratitude journal against a control group. The results in two weeks were impressive.
Seeing as there was scientific evidence for this, I thought I’d better give it a go. Again.
Neff said to turn the gratitude journal into less of a list and more of an explanation of the feelings you felt when you saw/felt/had the thing you were grateful for. This for me was transformative. I love writing and have kept a journal for years now. I find it so therapeutic, and maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect with the list-making – because it wasn’t heralding the juicy, yumminess, or explaining the feelings, the savouring, the joy.
So far, this gratitude journal thing has been working for me. Finally. Even when I have a crappy day, there’s this thought at the back of my head that I know there are things that have happened that I am grateful for, that have brought me joy. It is so comforting and makes me feel less doom and gloom about the tough stuff.
And the whole self-compassion thing… I realised during this latest bout of intense anxiety and self-doubt that the majority of things I am anxious about are created by my own intense overthinking brain! They’re not even real things or real situations! They’re imagined things and imagined situations that haven’t happened and probably won’t happen, or things that I have zero control over.
How can I have spent multiple years – like four at least – worrying, stressing and tormenting myself over things that might not ever happen, things that haven’t happened and things I cannot change?
I feel embarrassed and ashamed, but also so empowered to take steps to make a change. I have to stop the thoughts before they become overthoughts. I have to stop myself before I launch into a place of deep, dark overthinking. It’s not healthy and I don’t want to do that to myself anymore. I don’t want to hurt myself repeatedly and beat myself up because of things about myself that I cannot change or things about the world and those I love that I cannot change and that might not ever happen.
This is a revelation for me, and I am overwhelmingly grateful (see, gratitude!) to be at this turning point in my life. It feels new and scary and fresh, like when you step out of your front door after a big storm to see if it’s stopped raining, and the sun starts to peep through the clouds.
There is so much to be grateful for and so little to overthink. I have so many assets that are good and worthy and beautiful. I don’t need to overthink my big nose, or my frizzy hair or my slightly-larger-than-hoped thighs. What about my compassion, understanding, talents and loyalty? The love I show to others that I am working on showing to myself? What about those things?
And I can’t stress and worry that my boyfriend would rather be with someone else… I cannot do that to myself. He more-than-likely doesn’t – he tells me all the time that he loves me and wants to be with me. So why do I overthink everything, torture myself, tell myself that I am wrong and awful, and convince myself he wants to be with someone else? It’s so painful and unnecessary, and I do not want it in my life anymore. It is not creating the life I want for myself or the life that I deserve.
I have Kristen Neff to thank for this, as well as a whole bunch of realisations, a good dose of joy and a bunch of gratitude for all the good in the world and in my life.
Change is possible, and I hope this is here to stay.