I was talking with a friend recently and she was venting about a problem. She said she’s been working on putting the situation into perspective as a way of helping herself handle and get past it. She was out the other day, stewing over her problem, and saw a guy who was just completely beat up – arm in a cast, using a walker – and she told herself, “I’m not having a bad day. He is having a bad day.”
I agreed whole-heartedly and told her that sometimes when I’m mired in negativity and feeling sorry for myself, I snap out of it by telling myself, “I am not going to sit here with a roof over my head, clothes on my back, money in the bank, and family and friends who love me, and complain about how my life is hard.” Usually this works pretty well.
I’ll pause for a moment to say that even the most privileged person in the world has the right to say, “Jeez, this just wasn’t a great day for me.” We’re all entitled to a moment here and there when we vent about something that’s bothering us and say, “This sucks and I don’t deserve it.” You’re not forbidden to have a bad day just because there’s someone else on the planet who has it worse than you. But I think that when we get stuck in a cycle of negativity, our problems have a tendency to grow and shape-shift and become bigger and scarier and more all-consuming than they actually are. And in my experience, when this happens, the best weapon in your arsenal isn’t booze or chocolate or a therapist or even a good cry – it’s gratitude.
I’m not sure there’s anyone alive who can claim that they got where they are and acquired everything they have completely on their own. Somewhere along the way, somebody helped you. No matter who you are, someone along the way shared their knowledge with you, took a chance on you, gave you good advice, loaned you money, inspired you when you were ready to quit or just favored you with a kind word when you needed one.
If you look back along the timeline of your life, it’s probably studded with at least a few people or situations that served as hindrances, obstacles or miscellaneous pains in your neck, but I’m willing to bet that they’re outnumbered, either in quantity or quality or both, by people who lent you a hand. When I’m grumpy and dwelling on something in my life that sucks, I stop and take a deep breath and think about those people, and I feel better. I’m blessed to have a lot of people in my life who support me and care about me, and when I’m overwhelmed in a bad way, I can draw on that and know that no matter what, I’m going to be okay. And to say I’m thankful for that is a comically huge understatement.
Sometimes things get particularly hard, though, and you’re really not feeling great about life and don’t want to get out of bed. What then? When I find myself there, I start at the bottom. I start with, “I woke up today.” It seems like such a small thing, but when you really think about it, it’s enough. It gets my feet on the floor. Then I move on to, “I woke up in a warm bed in a safe home.” A bit later, it’s “I woke up in a warm bed in a safe home and got ready to go to a steady job.” And it snowballs from there. If I start with the most basic thing to be thankful for and then proceed with grateful eyes, I find so much to be glad about that whatever’s bothering me shrinks down to a manageable size. Sometimes it even disappears altogether. This year I made a resolution to practice gratitude, and I think it’s making a big difference in how I look at things and process events after the fact. It’s something you can do at any time and it only takes a minute, but it can make a huge difference in how you proceed with your day.
Meghan Anderson lives in Chicago and works in the publishing industry. She loves books, snacks, Doctor Who, and blogging at The Upstairs Window (www.theupstairswindow.