I remember one night, when my life felt like it was crashing down and I was anxious, struggling with school, and had an incredibly hard time coping with stress. Life wasn’t so great for me…at least that’s the way things seemed.
I felt awful; wondering why I had been cursed with all my ailments. The more I thought about things, the worse I felt. Anyone familiar with anxiety and depression empathizes with the black hole that it can be.
I remember that one night in particular because it was the night my friends went out, and I chose to stay home and sulk in my sorrows. It had been a long few years. I’d grown sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
I stood up from my bed, walked outside, and sat on my porch, gazing upwards at the one star I could see through the Pittsburgh city lights. At that moment I believe I hit my limit. Despite all the bad in my life, sitting outside and staring at the night sky brought me an inner peace I hadn’t felt in what seemed an eternity.
What a blessing it was just to be alive.
It was that moment when some advice from my mother burst through my thick skull and planted a seed: be grateful for what you have.
So I made a mental list of all the things in my life that were good:
- I had a loving family; actually, an incredibly loving family
- I was intelligent, with a college opportunity some only dream of
- I had a great internship (which eventually turned into my first career)
- I had a roof over my head and a car to drive
- For the most part, I had my health (minus the anxiety). At least I wasn’t missing any limbs or severely handicapped.
- I had amazing friends
There were more than that, but I think you get the idea. Even though my life seemed like it was crumbling down, it was actually OK. In that one moment, I felt in control.
That’s when I initially started my habit of practicing gratitude. And it’s something I held near and dear to my heart. For those of you that scoff at the idea of gratitude, I hope this article may change your thinking.
It’s real. It works. It shifts your thinking from a negative mindset to a positive one. A positive mind is more open and happy. It puts a much different filter on your view of the world. And it has real, tangible effects as well.
- I appreciated my family more and built deeper connections with my brother and sister.
- I stopped taking my studies for granted, and seized the opportunities that I had been so grateful to receive.
- My positive energy radiated into my work and the relationships I formed with my colleagues. Even when the company said they weren’t hiring, they made an exception so that they wouldn’t lose me after I graduated.
- I started approaching my anxiety holistically. Rather than seeing it as something happening to me, I started believing it was my own habits causing havoc on my mind. I began feeling better and better.
These aren’t small things. These are major life changes. All things made possible by one moment, one shift in my thinking.
Recently, I fell out of this habit. It took a little while, but sure enough, I noticed a difference. That’s why last week I vowed to fall back in line and make the habit stick again.
Most of our lives are spent doing unconscious, autonomous behaviors. In fact, about 40% of our daily activities are habitual. Without realizing, we criticize, we think negatively, we complain, we tend to see the bad in situations rather than the good. This sort of thinking doesn’t change immediately.
You can, however, change a little at a time.
Start right now by taking a minute or two to create your own mental list of all the good things in your life. Watch the news and recognize that maybe you don’t really have things so bad after all.
Then, commit to a daily gratitude practice. It doesn’t have to be much. It could be as simple as telling a loved one daily how much you appreciate them. Just do something to express gratitude.
Eventually, you’ll notice a difference. Your mindset will start to shift, and you’ll become more mindful.
By taking just one moment, right now, to declare gratitude as a new habit, you could literally change your life. It changed mine. And hopefully yours too.