“Gratitude creates joy—not vice versa.” ~Dr. Brené Brown
To be blunt, my summer of 2013 sucked. In a matter of months, a tidal wave of stressful events happened and it completely shattered my sense of safety. I was on the verge of a serious depression.
The summer began with a broken heart. The love of my life, the man I planned to marry, broke up with me and admitted he had wanted to leave for the past year.
In a matter of minutes, my dreams of starting a family and living happily ever after were crushed. It caught me so off guard I could barely breathe. I quickly moved out of our New York City apartment, crashed on friends' couches, and started hunting for a second job.
After a month of couch surfing, I found a small studio to sublet in Brooklyn. Things were starting to look up until I severely sprained my foot two days before moving into the fifth floor walk-up building. In the city where you must walk and climb stairs to get anywhere, it royally sucked.
The frustrations kept rolling in. My studio apartment had no air conditioning for a couple weeks, two of my credit cards were stolen, and my office job started delivering rounds of layoffs. I started having panic attacks at night and my eye was twitching non-stop.
Things got worse when my dad got sick. He passed away in July.
Hanging on by shreds, I turned thirty at the end of the summer. Part of me wanted to throw a tantrum, kick and scream, and give up on life. But I was so exhausted, I just felt numb. So, I busied myself with work and exercise. I’ve always been stubborn, and I refused to fall apart.
Even though I felt lonely, broken, and disappointed, I had to wonder if the universe was up to something. As tough as it all was, I knew it was up to me to make it better, no matter how “unfair” the circumstances. If I learned one thing while living in NYC, it was 100 percent up to me to fix my life.
In perfect timing, I saw a re-run of Oprah’s Lifeclass on TV in September. The episode featured a panel of experts discussing how practicing gratitude offers life-changing relief from emotional pain.
As if someone dumped a cold glass of water over my head, the show gave me a major wake-up call. I realized I desperately needed to change my story.
That afternoon I wrote my first daily gratitude list and promised to write ten things I was grateful for every single day moving forward.
Each day I rode the subway to work and typed up gratitude lists on my smartphone. At first, it was difficult to force my brain to stop complaining and noticing everything that was wrong. So, I started off listing small and simple blessings like air-conditioned trains and a clean bed to sleep in every night.
It didn't take more than a few days to realize I was incredibly lucky. I was up to my ears in blessings.
My gratitude practice deepened over time, with thanks for the loving support of friends, and appreciation for every single lesson I was forced to learn that summer.
For every loss, I had a gain. I had my health, I was never hungry, and I felt stronger than ever. Those are blessings that millions of people in the world will never have.
But here’s the part I didn’t expect. The moment I started making gratitude lists, life just got easier. As each day passed, I felt better and, dare I say, blissfully optimistic.
It got easier to put my life back together because I knew I was surrounded by support. Instead of wallowing in what was wrong, I made the daily intention to focus on all the people who made me smile at work, to seek out new things to be grateful for, and to take comfort in simple pleasures like candles, hot baths, sunsets, healthy homemade food, and journaling.
I started smiling and laughing again, and everyone around me noticed. The new me was grateful to be alive, unapologetic, and full of wonder about where my life was headed next.
Bursting with positive energy, I encouraged friends to let go of their sob stories and give thanks for everything they already had. The joy I’ve experienced since starting this habit feels absolutely miraculous.
Shawn Anchor, Research Psychologist and CEO of Good Think Inc., says that gratitude listing “rewire[s] your brain, allowing [it] to actually work more optimistically and more successfully…to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.” I couldn’t agree more.
Our lives are typically full of expectations, but we often can’t predict how our weeks, months, or years will turn out. I’ve learned that no matter what your current circumstances are, you have the power to change your perspective.
Gratitude listing is a simple five-minute habit anyone can adopt that has an enormous positive impact on how you view your life. It simply makes you a happier person, and happier people attract the best of everything life has to offer.
Smiling woman image via Shutterstock