I don’t do gratitude lists because they feel forced. I group them with all the messages we get from society that annoy me such as “think positive”, “seize the day” and, the most annoying of all, “just breathe”. Don’t tell me to breathe thank you, I will hold my breath if I want to!
The other reason I don’t do them is because my DEFINITELY AWFUL parents were forever telling us that we were ungrateful. My dad even used to call me and my sisters the “ingrates” as a kind of casual “funny” nickname like “Hey, ingrates! Come to the table, it’s dinner time!” So if someone asks me what I’m grateful for, I can’t help but hear the answers being yelled at me in my head in my mother’s voice.
What I do is “Not Awful” lists. Why? Because it doesn’t ask me to feel anything different, it only asks me to notice what’s there.
Humans naturally scan the environment for negative things. We were designed that way to keep us off the dinner menus of lions and tigers and what-not back in the Stone Age. So “Not Awful” lists are about scanning my environment and noticing anything that isn’t negative: anything ranging from neutral to ecstasy (aside from ACTUAL Ecstasy that is. Don’t do drugs kids). By gently shifting my focus off the negative, it shifts me off negative rumination and my mood changes as a natural flow-on effect. Gratitude comes of its own accord without invalidating or minimising any real and current struggles. This is what they call…MINDFULNESS is it not?
Mindfulness is so trendy right now but I wonder how many people actually know it’s a royal pain in the ass to practice. Mindfulness, at least what I’ve come to understand of it from Psychologist J, Dr K and what little I’ve dabbled in Buddhism, is just choosing where to put your focus and noticing what is there without getting caught up in labelling or feeling.
While the concept is simple, doing it is NOT because our minds are like naughty little puppies that scamper away to think or feel about all kinds of things other than what we wish them to.
So here it is, my NOT AWFUL List for the week:
1. My son. Having a headstrong autistic child sure has its challenges but at the end of the day he is an actual real human being my body made. Also I truly believe there is no such thing as a bad child. He is 4, full of life, smart, chatty, outgoing, very cute and 100% NOT AWFUL.
2. My husband. Here is another person who gets on my nerves at times but not this week. He’s been especially patient with me the last two evenings and that’s NOT AWFUL.
3. Excellent Long Term friend who texted to say her and family would be in my city this weekend so we can meet up. I’m REALLY looking forward to this. This will be 100% NOT AWFUL.
4. My dog. He’s 18 and still he’s alive. That’s NOT AWFUL.
5. This comic that made me laugh. Laughing is NOT AWFUL.
6. The cafe Husband, son and I went to on the weekend because I was on the hunt for gluten-free diary-free breakfast choices. I chose a “paleo eggs on toast” with bread that I struggled to identify as bread. Though the taste of the bread borderlined on awful, the conversation about it didn’t.
“This bread is really earthy… I mean to the point it actually tastes like dirt. But dirt that’s really nutritious.”
“That’s taking paleo to the next level.”
My son’s breakfast choice was simply spectacular by comparison. Definitely NOT AWFUL and OH MY GOODNESS I NEARLY FORGOT THE MOST NOT AWFUL BIT OF ALL: I may have found the world’s most delicious cappuccino with almond milk.
My Not Awful lists don’t always look this grand though. Sometimes there seems to be nothing that feels OK. And how would this method work for other people? What if you have no children and want them? What if you have no significant other? What if you’re in a lot of physical or mental pain? What if you’re homeless? What if you’re dying?
When I feel like gratitude is impossible I start with what’s neutral. My list is more like this:
1. I had something for lunch.
2. I have somewhere to sleep tonight.
3. I’m not at work.
4. It’s not raining right now.
4. I have a clothes line.
5. This clothes peg works.
And gradually I find that there are more and more things around me that aren’t AWFUL and it might lift my mood just enough to get though the day.
Do you do gratitude lists? What works for you? Comment below.