Tuesday, 30 July 2013

"Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you're grateful for what you have, you're not consumed with wanting something different or something more." Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen "Grateful" Rubin
I have decided to practise gratitude. I nearly wrote "started a gratitude practice "; I need to read some real books. You know, ones that don't come from the self-help section.

This is a serious defeat for my inner cynic. Not my inner skeptic, I'm still friends with her. I wrote before how I've always resisted the idea of counting my blessings. Was this because I was, as Brené  Brown would say, waiting for the other shoe to drop? She calls it the notion of being afraid to acknowledge your own happiness "foreboding joy" and writes
"Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We're afraid that the feeling of joy won't last, or that there won't be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult."

That's part of it, but in my own life, I've dismissed all thoughts of actively cultivating gratitude on the basis of one memory.

I had a GP at the time who's not my GP anymore. He was youngish and laidback and I kind of liked him. Other people liked him too and he had a busy private practice but I was one of his public patients. I was in the surgery one day getting my prescription and we were chatting.
"Why don't you go home, Ellen, and make a list. Write out all of the good things in your life."

I can understand now, the judgement behind his words, and the implications that I was an ungrateful, spoilt brat who couldn't grasp how lucky she was. "Ungrateful" is a word I've often had levelled at me. There I was with my parents still living and healthy, my educational opportunities, my prospects, my youth. What right did I have to be miserable?

I couldn't see that judgement then and, because I respected him, I went home and wrote my list. I'll dig it out next time I'm down in my parents' house but I'm fairly sure what was on it. My degree, my masters, the fact I was working on a PhD, my youth, my family, the friends I was sharing a house with, my active social life, the radio station I was volunteering at, the local paper for which I'd started to write reviews.
Within months my family was mad as hell with me, I'd lost my place in the house and was back living at home with no nights out at all, my friends weren't talking to me, I'd thrown in the PhD, the radio station wouldn't have me on the premises. I thought that all was lost. The only way I could get through it was to pretend it wasn't happening.

So when the books would talk about gratitude journals I think they're a dangerous idea. The one time I counted my blessings, most of blessings flew away like birds in the winter.  But is gratitude the same as counting your blessings? I'm beginning to think they aren't the same. Certainly we can be grateful for blessings, but counting them implies that somewhere there is a massive chart, where all our scores are recorded and adjusted. Being told to count your blessings means "Take a look at the chart there and see there are people with  far lower scores than yours. Get over yourself."

Katherine Baldwin
I've decided to be conscious of my blessings without counting them or keeping score. I'm going to pick three things each day to be grateful for. Typing those words feels really uncomfortable which might be a good sign.  I'm following the guidelines from JustCharlee, that I got from Katherine Baldwin via Twitter https://twitter.com/From40WithLove . These are:

Three Little Steps
Commit to writing three things you’re grateful for, for 21 days.
1. Commit and share
Whether that means posting on facebook or buddying up with a friend, making it public means it’s likely to happen rather than go the way of many a gym membership.
2. Choose a fixed time
Make it a habit like brushing your teeth. First thing in the morning and last thing at night are great because they set you up for sweet dreams or create a positive start to your day. Three little things. You have time for that!
3. Keep track
To find out what difference it has made, keep a note of changes you notice.


This is, incidentally, almost identical to the gratitude journal kept by Gretchen Rubin in "The Happiness Project"  www.happiness-project.com . Rubin writes
"Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you're grateful for what you have, you're not consumed with wanting something different or something more."
 That makes sense to me, and is what I hope to achieve. Not to stop wanting something more (relationships, children) or something different (writing) but to not be consumed by that want.  Rubin only kept her journal for two weeks but found by then she was able to integrate gratitude into everyday life. Unlike the morning pages, which are an open-ended commitment, I'll just do the writing-down of the three things for three weeks and then see. I will let you know the outcome here.


So what were my three things for today?

1. Seeing my washing flapping in the wind on the clothes-line. I'm in love with my clothes-line. Seriously.
2.Spending almost two hours catching up, in person, with some-one I hadn't seen in ages.
3. Posting my entry to a local short-story competition.

The last is quite a step towards the mountain of being a writer again. A tiny, baby step but definitely in the right direction. And I have twenty-eight more days off in which to do little else but potter around, fix up my house and write. A happy day :-)

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