Gratitude isn’t coming easily to me these days. Perhaps it’s the stress of the election results, or the passing of my beloved cat, who was by my side (and often on top of me) through my first 15 years of adulthood. It might be the vicious head and chest cold that I can’t seem to shake, the symptoms of which are keeping me from sleeping through the night and going on my daily sanity walks. Or maybe it’s the leaking radiator in our only car. The repairs can’t happen until next week, at which point they will cost us well north of one thousand dollars. (According to our mechanic, we’ll probably be fine in the interim as long as there isn’t smoke pouring out of the hood, in which case we should “probably pull over.” Um, thanks.)
Actually, now that I think about it, the straw that broke my ungrateful back was probably the letter I got last week from our pediatrician’s office informing me that the girls’ flu shots are likely inactive due to a problem with the refrigerator in which they were stored. They need another round of injections. Needless to say, the first visit to the doctor’s office was a complete shitshow, and the thought of having to do it again completely sent me over the edge. I put the letter down and promptly retreated to my couch to binge watch the first season of Quantico. Apparently watching several inexperienced (but ridiculously hot) spies-in-training try to manage a horrifying terrorist attack on US soil was somehow more palatable than dealing with the mundane details of my daily life.
But, if I’ve learned anything from several years spent obsessively reading self-help books and Huffington Post listicles, it’s that gratitude can make life easier, more fun, and less overwhelming. I’ve been practicing gratitude for years. Now, to be clear, when I say practice, I don’t want you to think of a slender blonde with a pearl earrings and a perfect ponytail perched serenely on a yoga mat. I want you to think of a pudgy seven year old with tangled hair and an oversized soccer jersey stepping onto the field for the first time, with only the vaguest notion of what she’s supposed to do next.
Even so, there are times when gratitude comes easily to me, and I can move from moment to moment noticing and appreciating the details of my environment and experience without much trouble at all. My house is orange! I love orange! It’s my second favorite color! (And yes, I do have a first and second favorite color. My first favorite color is blue. Remember, people, pudgy seven year old.) I’m eating an apple! I’m so healthy and self-righteous for eating this apple! I found the pile of unpaid bills before they were too overdue! I’m actually adulting! My daughter said thank you for the dinner I made (that merits not just a moment of gratitude, but also an internal shriek of “HOLY SHIT!”). I am so grateful not to have a broken foot! Or pancreatitis! I have no idea what pancreatitis is, but I’m so damn happy not to have it! I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR MY LIFE!
But then my cat dies and my car and lungs and the pediatrician’s refrigerator all go on the fritz at the same time, and within a few days, my internal response to just about everything goes from some version of thank you to varying degrees of fuck you. Whereas I might have previously responded to a counter overflowing with dirty dishes and stinky lunch bags by feeling grateful that I even have food to cook and a kitchen to clean, now I can only get as far as debating whether we should burn the house down or try to sell it because I just cannot scrub that damn pasta pot even one more time.
Even so, I’m not giving up. I am not going to let my gratitude practice go the way of hot yoga, kale chips, and every other self-improvement tactic I’ve tried and discarded over the years. Not only is gratitude free and fast, but it doesn’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Each time I am able to notice my pissed off, irritated, overwhelmed thoughts and shift my perspective just enough to find something to be grateful for, I feel… lighter. Less stuck. I get a little headspace from the stress and anxiety. I feel empowered and perhaps even competent. Life feels a little more manageable. I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say it makes me happy, but when I am able to stack up enough moments of gratitude, I find myself significantly closer to happiness than I might have been otherwise.
And so I’m trying to do what a wise coach might tell a pudgy soccer player to do whenever she feels defeated on the field. I’m going to back to basics. Noticing the small things. I woke up without any new pimples this morning, people. (I think we can all agree that having to deal with acne more than twenty years after I finally got the hell out of puberty is a particularly unique form of torture, so no new pimples is no small shakes.) My husband is going to take the girls for their updated flu shots so I don’t have to. My mechanic is a super nice guy who remained entirely unphased in the face of my near meltdown. In just a few days, I get to hang out with some of my favorite family members while eating a shitload of mashed potatoes and pie. My husband and children are healthy (knock on wood), and we have two new kittens in our home. I LIVE IN A WORLD WITH NETFLIX, PEOPLE.
Thanksgiving is in two days. This is the World Cup of gratitude, folks. Fortunately, I don’t have to be an expert to win this one. I just need to keep practicing, one small moment at a time. And maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to burn the house down after all.