“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melody Beattie
There’s very little that upsets me like feeling stuck and out of control. That’s exactly how I felt at the beginning of this year.
Things were going well in many areas of my life, but I wasn’t happy with my living situation. Since I knew my fiancé was happy with our move back to his hometown in northern California, where we first met, I felt completely powerless to change what wasn’t working for me.
For a while I tossed and turned at night, stressing about the choice we’d made, feeling guilty about not being happy. I felt even guiltier about the possibility of asking him to give up something I knew he wanted.
With so much emotion weighing on me, it was hard to identify what I really wanted. And then I questioned if it even mattered. What if we moved and he was unhappy? Was my happiness more important than his?
What if we moved and I was unhappy? Then the choice would have been pointless.
And then there was the fear of what people would think if we moved yet again. We’d spent the two years prior bouncing from one short-term rental to another, trying to become bi-coastal, after living in LA for two years before that.
It seemed like the only fair option at the time, considering our families live on opposite coasts, and neither of us liked the idea of starting a family far from the people we love.
When that proved too difficult, for reasons far too vast to list, we chose his hometown—where I knew I didn’t want to live full time, long term—and I felt terrified that I’d get stuck there forever.
Some days I’d start crying out of nowhere, while eating breakfast, or working, or watching TV. I’d feel fear, and anxiety, and confusion, and then more guilt for being so emotional and unable to identify and own my desires.
One day I realized I’d fallen into a trap I’d fallen into many times before, and an ironic one, at that: because I’d felt trapped in my circumstances, I’d gotten trapped in my emotions.
I was dwelling, overanalyzing, and worrying about worst-case scenarios. No wonder I was so blocked. I was trying to solve a problem from a place of desperation and fear. Always a recipe for disaster.
So I decided to do something I’d done before, but hadn’t in quite a while: I started a gratitude journal.
I knew I needed to nurture more positive emotions on a daily basis, and that everything would get clearer and easier from there.
At first it was a little difficult. I’d write something down—“catching up with my brother,” for example—but it didn’t necessarily change how I felt.
That’s when I remembered that knowing you should be grateful and truly feeling gratitude are two very different things.
In order to actually feel gratitude, I had to dig deeper and reflect upon just how fortunate I was.
People have always seen me as fortunate, even when I was secretly struggling with depression and bulimia, as I’ve always appeared to have a lot going for me.
But I realize I am more fortunate than ever at this point in my life. I just needed a little more to help me access my gratitude, buried as it was beneath layers of fear and anxiety.
Throughout this year, I’ve been building a list of questions that help me identify what I most appreciate about my life and the people in it.
If you too could benefit from nurturing more positive emotions—and let’s face it, we all could—try asking yourself one of these questions and see where they take you.
1. What’s one kind or thoughtful thing someone did for you recently?
2. Who is always there for you, and how do you feel about them?
3. Who has helped you become the person you are today, and what’s the top thing you’d thank them for?
4. Who’s someone who always really listens when you talk, and how does that affect you?
5. How have your spiritual beliefs or practices fulfilled you recently?
6. What’s the best thing that happened today so far?
7. What’s something that inspired or touched you recently?
8. Has anyone done anything recently that made your job easier?
9. What’s one thing you enjoyed about doing your job recently?
10. Can you think of any non-physical gifts you’ve received recently—someone’s time, attention, understanding, or support?
11. What about today has been better than yesterday?
12. Who have you enjoyed being around recently, and why?
13. How have you used your talents and abilities recently, and what have you enjoyed about doing that?
14. What have you learned recently that will help you in the future?
15. What made you laugh or smile today?
16. What’s the last song you heard that you enjoyed? How did it make you feel, and why?
17. Have you experienced any blessings in disguise lately—things that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped and yet turned out for the best?
18. What’s the weather like today, and what’s one good thing about that?
19. How has technology enhanced your life and your connections recently?
20. Have you had an opportunity to help someone recently, and how did you feel about that?
21. What’s one thing you experienced recently that made you feel a sense of wonder or awe?
22. What’s the best thing about your home, and have you taken time to enjoy it recently?
23. If you didn’t get what you wanted today, can you identify something in what you got that’s worth having?
24. What’s improved about your life from this time last year?
25. What choices have you made in the last five years that you’d thank yourself for making?
26. What’s something you did well recently, and what qualities or skills enabled you to do this?
27. Who made a positive difference in your life recently?
28. What’s something you’re looking forward to in the future?
29. What did you learn from the most difficult part of your day yesterday, and how will this lesson benefit you going forward?
30. What’s something you witnessed recently that reminded you that life is good?
31. What’s something you witnessed recently that reminded you that people are good?
32. How many of your basic needs do you not need to worry about meeting today?
33. What event or interaction made you feel good about yourself recently?
34. How have you made personal or professional progress lately?
35. What simple pleasures did you enjoy—or can you enjoy—today?
36. What modern conveniences (i.e.: electronics and appliances) do you enjoy that make your life easier?
37. What’s the most beautiful thing you saw today?
38. What’s something enjoyable you get to experience every day that you’ve come to take for granted?
39. What are three things your arms or legs allow you to do that you enjoy?
40. What’s the kindest thing someone has done for you lately?
41. How do your friends and/or family members show they care about you?
42. What’s the last thing you enjoyed with your senses—a good meal, a song you love, or aromatherapy—and how amazing is it that you were able to experience that?
43. What movie, book, blog, or article affected your life for the better recently?
44. What have you seen in nature recently that made you feel happy, peaceful, or free?
45. How has modern medicine improved your life, recently or overall?
46. How does electricity simplify and improve your life—and can you imagine what life would like be like without it?
47. What’s your favorite thing about your bed, and how often does it enable you to get restful sleep?
48. What’s something you have easy access to that always improves your mood, and how has it improved your life?
49. Who in your life has survived something difficult, and how do you feel when you think about the fact that they’re still here?
50. Have you recently imagined a worst-case scenario that didn’t actually happen?
This last one was crucial for me. Not only did this help me appreciate things that turned out better than I’d anticipated, it reminded me how often this happens—if only I’m willing to act.
And act I did. A couple of months ago my fiancé and I moved back to LA, still far from my family, but in an area I love, near an industry we both love. And we’re now planning to start working on short films together.
We’re also prioritizing visits with our loved ones, together and separately, so we can both still nurture our relationships.
It’s a compromise we can both not only live with, but hopefully one that will enable us to thrive.
I am far happier for having made this choice (and grateful that my fiancé was open to it). And I know I found clarity and the strength to act on this, in large part, because I made the effort to change my mental state.
It’s funny how that happens. We can sit around and stress about our problems all we want, trying to force a solution. But sometimes the best way to fix what isn’t working is to first focus on what is.
Everything gets easier when we move past fear and desperation and nurture a grateful, hopeful heart.
Woman holding heart image via Shutterstock