Gratitude

I woke the other morning under a dark cloud. It started with a bad dream where I didn’t check on the side effects of my actions and I ended up with a bill for thousands of dollars that I didn’t have. The details of my dreams fade quickly, but enough of this one stuck around to shake me up. My morning routine includes a few minutes of quiet meditation where I focus on being thankful to prepare for the day, but before I could transition into that mode, my brain connected dots from that dream with reality.

Thoughts of projects I have yet to finish and personal tasks that have been lost to procrastination created a clatter in my mind that destroyed any hope of silence. I also seeded that storm cloud by whining about some minor health issues and my darkness began to grow quickly.

After drifting through a fog of typical morning preparation for the day, something Judy said snapped me out of my dark introspection. “Are you managing me?” I asked. Her answer was, “Yes.”

She had spotted the cloud and without referencing it, Judy was giving me space and working to keep my path clear of anything else that might make me go darker. That realization of what she was doing pulled me out of my dark cloud and onto another stream of thoughts beginning with the question: How often does she have to manage me?

Judy and I have been together since high school, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. I know when she needs space and when to jump in and help her and she does the same for me, but this felt different because I didn’t realize she was doing it until she told me. I couldn’t decide if I was more upset about needing to be handled or impressed with how good she had gotten at it. After some thought, I’m going with the latter because it’s no real surprise that I can’t do this alone.

That has brought me back to gratitude. I know that being thankful for what I have been given is critical to living a happy life. Unfortunately, there are times when I keep gratitude an arm’s length away. At those times, the funk that comes over me is emotional junk food—I know it’s not good for me, but I’m ingesting it anyway. A little funk is easy to digest and let pass, but too much and it affects me at the physical, emotional, and intellectual levels. The best way out is the cleansing power of gratitude.

We live in a world brimming with problems and, thanks to the internet living on our phones, the bad news pops up immediately via social media and news feeds. It’s easy to only see the bad and find only despair. I weep for humanity at the same time that I seek the good in people.

For thankfulness to work, it has to be very personal and specific. I have to focus on an act of kindness that my lovely wife has done for me like letting me be lazy last night and doing all the dinner cooking and clean up. Or a moment of laughter between friends at work is worthy material for gratitude. Instead of going down my list of unfinished task and seeing them as half-empty glasses, I can reverse those thoughts and see each as a gift. Challenges can be well-hidden presents; I just have to find the positive side—the growth and satisfaction that will come from accomplishing those tasks.

The broad thoughts of thankfulness help too, like the gift of a sunny day or my kids or my new life. The detailed ones are just more real, stick in my brain better, and push out the darkness.

If life is looking dark or the world too broken, try making a list of all those beautiful gifts in your life. Make them personal. Be specific. Be grateful. I bet it helps you, too.