Hello everyone, and my apologies for the delay in releasing this next blog post. It’s been too long! I can only hope that you actually noticed, and were patiently awaiting my next piece (lol!)
Anywho, today’s post is all about appreciation. And I hope you know that whoever you are, or however many or few people read this, I appreciate each and every one of you for doing so. Yesterday was a pretty hard and also eye opening day for me, and that’s why I am taking the time to make this post about appreciation. To appreciate the blessings we have is something that we all need to take more time to do every single day.
So why was yesterday hard for me you ask? Well, I’ll give you a little bit of backstory…
I have been an aunt since I was eight years old. A fact that I have always been strangely proud of. I remember the day my sister told me she was pregnant and how ecstatic I was. I remember going to all of her doctors appointments with her. I remember the day she and her then husband found out the sex of the baby, and crying when I found out a stupid boy was coming into my life instead of the girl I wanted. I remember the stair to the pool at her in-laws that broke when she stepped on it, and her falling and how scary this was given the baby. I remember how they almost named my nephew Austin, and hating that name because at eight the only Austin I knew of was Stone Cold Steve Austin and I thought wrestling was stupid, along with all of the shirts the boys in my class wore with his face on it. Which is ironic because now my boyfriend’s name is Austin…
And I remember the day that my oldest nephew was born, doing my math homework in the hospital awaiting his arrival (forever a nerd,) and getting to hold a baby for the first time.
I also remember carrying him around by myself as a kid, and feeling so proud to do so. I remember chasing him around the house with my friends at twelve when he was four, him out of nowhere running into the bathroom, picking up my mom’s glass fish and throwing it into the tub crying “You’ll never get it now!,” then breaking down cry-laughing because of how hilariously random this was. And when those same friends and I accidentally got his little body stuck between the foot board of my old wooden bed frame, panicking because we couldn’t get him out. And when I had my first job at fifteen, while my mom was driving me to work, him asking out of nowhere:
“Where do you work anyway? The dump? Because you stink!”
A Nephew in the Army
Well enough reminiscing about this hilariously random child and back to the point… Yesterday was really hard for me because yesterday I drove with my sister to see my now twenty-year-old nephew off to boot camp because he decided very abruptly to join the army.
Though I of course support our troops and everything they do to protect us and our freedoms, it is terrifying to think of my not-so-baby anymore baby nephew being one of them. To think of his life in danger, and the things he may have to see and do in his service…
Though I have imagined what it might be like, before very recently (and yesterday it all becoming real,) I had never experienced first hand what it feels like to have a loved one in the military. To have to say goodbye to them, and wonder if they will ever come back home.
Getting Caught Up in the Day to Day
It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day struggles of life and forget how blessed we truly are. We get so angry and upset in traffic, at our spouses over the smallest things and when they don’t meet our unrealistic expectations, at our children and our pets when they’re being obnoxious. We worry about our looks, and what others think of us, about money, and our future instead of being present. We gossip and talk behind each other’s backs. All while being blessed to not have to deal with the sadness of sending a loved one off to boot camp or to battle. Blessed to not have children that are sick, and so forth.
We neglect to even acknowledge how truly blessed we are most days, yet are so quick to focus on all of the things that are supposedly wrong with our lives.
Yesterday I also saw my nephew’s father, on top of sending his oldest son off to boot camp, have to deal via phone with another son sick in the hospital. A ten-year-old son who was born prematurely and with heart issues, and had to live the first few years of his life in and out of hospitals, undergoing a heart transplant before he was two. A son who may be sick again. Cancer?
Though I was feeling terribly sad about sending my nephew off, I was also thinking about how much worse my nephew’s father must be feeling worrying over the well being of two of his children simultaneously. What it must have felt like to have a child born sick and needing a heart transplant, and about the severe emotional/financial and countless other traumas this would have placed on the shoulders of he and his family.
I thought about my sister telling me on the car ride there about her current mother-in-law undergoing chemo, and having to shave her head the day prior because of her battle with breast cancer.
And all of this at once just made me feel so guilty. Not that guilt is a healthy thing to feel either. But guilty for all of the small things I have let upset me recently. Getting behind on cleaning the house, not seeming to have enough time to work on my blog, or to go to the gym more frequently, or to spend with friends. Upset at the cats for scratching the furniture and always crying for more food incessantly… Upset at my boyfriend when he isn’t perfect or gets on my nerves, and when I have a bad hair day.
For real Amber?
Anyone’s life can change in a second. Sometimes drastically for the worse. And when those moments happen you will pray you could go back to when you only had those insignificant day to day worries. Worries that used to be a big enough deal to ruin your whole day (or days,) that would put you in a shitty mood affecting the moods of those around you, and make you question why your life isn’t good enough.
We’ve Gotta Stop This!
I know this is far easier said than done, but we need to be better about stopping these thoughts that bog us down every day, that make us feel bad about ourselves, and make us forget how lucky we are. We forget to be grateful for all of our blessings.
So how do we just stop? Believe it or not there are actually several things we can do to get our brains under control and live more grateful lives, that will also lead to less stress, more happiness, better relationships, etc.
The “I am Grateful” Checklist
Now if you know me you know I’m all about the checklist. I make checklists for everything. From things I have to get done that day or week, to long term goals and projects, to shopping lists, work stuff, blah blah blah. I guess this might seem a bit anal, but it actually is a great way to keep your life in order and help you accomplish way more, and stress way less.
So by this point you should all out expect me to create a checklist for how to be a more grateful and appreciative person as well:
1. Start Each Day with a Conscious Expression of Gratitude
What is the first thought we all have every day after waking up? Probably that we wish we didn’t have to go to work that day, or even get out of bed. We’re dreading all of the things that we have to accomplish, and we can’t wait for the day, or the workday at least, to be over.
How terrible is it that these negative thoughts are the very first things we start our day with? Think about how that sets the stage for your whole day to play out.
What if instead we actually forced our first thoughts to be of things we’re grateful for? When you feel those negative thoughts starting to come on, make a conscious effort to change them to:
I am grateful to have woken up this morning and to be alive.
I am grateful to have this day, and to have the brain and willpower to be able to consciously make the best of it. I do not have an unlimited number of days to live, so I will appreciate all of the ones I have and make them the best they can be.
I am grateful for my spouse and my children, and that they are healthy.
I am grateful for my job, and that I am able to provide for myself and my family. Even if I do not love my present position, I am grateful for the fact that I have the ability to make my situation better should I choose to put in the work.
You could go on and on.
Every day you can think of new things to express gratitude for, and you can repeat those you have the most gratitude for more often.
There are so many people in this world that do not possess these blessings that we take advantage of.
If you make it a habit to start every day will conscious expressions of gratitude, like any other habit, this will become a practice that you start to perform automatically every morning. The negative thoughts you used to wake up to every day will stop setting a negative, dismal stage for your day ahead. You will be happier and more appreciative of the things and people in your life, and they will be happier too being around the new and improved you. Positive energy is contagious.
Ask your spouse if they are willing to practice conscious gratitude with you every morning so you’re sharing the things you’re grateful for with one another. Think about how much this could improve your relationship! And teach your children to do the same. Why not practice conscious gratitude before you go to bed too, and before every meal, and just randomly throughout your day? You would not believe the difference this makes.
2. Change Your Mindset
Throughout our days we will also have negative thoughts that run through our heads. We are human after all. But what if every time we start to have a negative thought, we intentionally think of ways to spin that thought into a positive one?
For example, if you start to think “I can’t stand my narcissistic coworker,” maybe spin this to, “I am so happy that I am a more reasonable, kind, less self centered person. I wonder what happened to them in their life to make them that way? I hope that one day they will learn to improve as a person as I am doing for myself. Getting upset over their negative energy is not a productive use of my energy, and I choose to not let them bother me because I choose to be happy.”
If you start to think “I hate that I am overweight,” why not instead of dwelling on this think “I love the fact that I have beautiful, curly hair, and people love my hilarious personality. I am so grateful that I have the ability to walk, and to move and to exercise, and to improve myself physically should I choose to commit to putting the work in to do so.”
We all have the ability to make our own lives better, but we are not all blessed with the abilities that most of us take for granted. The fact that we are not confined to a wheelchair for example.
There will always be someone who’s situation is far worse than ours, and has it far worse than we do. Just like there will always be others who have it “better.” The best we can do is to be grateful for what we have and to work every day to improve ourselves toward the lives we want. That will always be good enough.
One last example: If it’s a gloomy, cold, miserable day, and you’re focusing on all of the grayness around you, why not try to notice instead the beautiful smile of a stranger, and the fact that they are still smiling despite the grayness? Or the beauty of the trees and flowers around that are still showing their colors despite getting poured on?
If you intentionally look for beauty you will find it all around you. The same goes for if you are always looking for ugliness. And which would you rather focus on?
3. Practice Self Control
Along with working to switch our mindset from consistently focusing on the negative to focusing on the positive, we need to learn how to practice self control.
A good example for me is being OCD about cleaning the house. I have had to force myself to learn to recognize how I feel in these OCD moments. Does being OCD about cleaning actually make me feel happy? No, it makes me feel stressed and anxious. Do I like feeling stressed and anxious? No, I feel best/happiest when I am “chill,” calm and relaxed. So I need to learn how to walk away from these OCD moments.
When my cats or your children are driving you nuts, can you control your reaction by convincing yourself not to yell at them? Do I like being someone that overreacts and can’t control my temper? Do I like having to apologize after the fact because I feel guilty for having overreacted? Do I like to feel guilty, or do I need to learn to control my reactions and be a more patient person?
Is this something that would really bother me, and would I would react the same way if something terribly tragic were to happen to me or someone I love tomorrow?
If you do not learn to control your actions, your thoughts, etc., you will never really feel in control of your own life, and this is not a happy or productive feeling either.
By recognizing that we do not like certain versions of ourselves and the way they make us feel, we can learn to control or walk away from them.
4. Support Others
Similar to recognizing that our negative habits/thoughts/reactions don’t actually make us happy or help us toward the lives we want, we must also ask ourselves “When I am not very nice to other people, does this actually make me feel better about myself, or like I’m truly a good person?”
Does badmouthing someone else, or talking behind their back, or gossiping actually make me feel good, or do I just feel guilty about it after the fact? Would I want people to do the same to me? How would this make me feel?
Is it really necessary to think negatively about, or say something negative to the person we’re with about someone else we see wearing something ugly, or that has bad eyebrows, or that is homeless?
The truth is that that stuff will never make you feel good, it will never make you a better person than they are, if you believe in any type of God it will never make you look good in their eyes. It brings down your energy level, and you NEVER know what someone else has had to deal with in their lives, or why they are in the position that they’re in.
You don’t and never will know everything about another person’s life, and chances are your assumptions are probably wrong, just like others assumptions about you are probably far from the truth. How could you every really know anything about the life of a complete stranger?
Maybe someone has bad eyebrows because they recently lost their mother, or their child, or their spouse, and they just don’t give a shit about their eyebrows at the moment. Think about that.
If you work to become a more supportive, understanding, positive person, I promise you will be happier, and others will start naturally treating you better as well. What goes around certainly comes back around.
I should note here as well that part of supporting others is allowing them to be themselves, and accepting/loving them for who they truly are. Though you can have a positive influence on someones life and teach them things to help them improve it if they are willing to be taught, you cannot force someone to be what you want or to believe in the things that you want them to believe, and you must accept that everyone is on their own path.
For a relationship to be successful you must love that person for who they are now, not for the potential you think they may one day possess. You must love them for how they treat you, not how they treat others, and not for their achievements in life, etc.
And accepting and loving someone for who they are and being a more positive person does not mean that you should settle for being treated badly, or for relationships that do not coincide with your own morals and goals.
5. Practice Mindfulness
I talk about yoga, meditation and the like in my post SOCIETAL PRESSURES ON & INTERNAL ANXIETIES OF AN ALMOST-30-YEAR-OLD FEMALE. These are topics of importance to me, and that I will continue to discuss on this blog. If you are hoping to become a more grateful, calm, peaceful, in-control, productive, well rounded person, I would strongly suggest looking into practicing similar techniques as well.
6. Chase Your Dreams
Last but not least, the big shebang: Chase your dreams!! If you are not chasing your dreams, all of the above will only be bandages for a bigger problem.
We need to practice gratitude every day to live a better, happier life. We need to appreciate our blessings and ensure the people in our life know they are loved and appreciated. You never know when these things may be gone. But if you are truly unhappy with your situation, your job, your body, your relationship, etc., being positive about the things that you do have will only go so far if you aren’t simultaneously working towards the other things you really do want for your life.
There are small steps you can take every single day toward fulfilling your dreams. If you just start taking them every day, they will snowball and turn into medium size steps, and then large steps, and then ginormous steps that eventually get you to exactly where you want to be. You will look back and realize how much those consistent baby steps truly made a difference toward where you are today.
If you want to get in shape, start by committing to taking a walk around your neighborhood or the local mall once a week with a friend. Commit to eating one healthier meal every day. The next month add on an exercise class you would enjoy, and two healthier meals a day. And so on.
If you are unhappy with your job, commit one hour a week to working on your resume and looking for other opportunities, or researching entrepreneurial ideas. In a few weeks up that to two hours, and so on.
The key to achieving goals is to make them manageable, specific, measurable and attached to a realistic time frame. Ask any life coach, counselor, guru, etc. and they will tell you the same thing.
Well, that’s all folks. I hope these tips of mine will help you to lead a better happier, more productive and peaceful life. I hope that they will help you to improve your relationships and fulfill your dreams.
For the betterment of our world and your own existence, I ask you to please make a conscious effort to always remember the things you are grateful for, and to give thanks for them every day.
Focusing on the the negative and things that are “wrong” in our lives is certainly the easier route to take, but if we make a conscious effort to change our lifestyle toward the positive, the reverse will become true.
Since when has the easiest way ever been the best way?
I ask you to please pray for my nephew, and that he may stay safe in his time in service, as well as for all of our troops, sick children and loved ones.
And I would love to hear about some of the things you are grateful for, and the things you would like us to pray for for you and yours in the comments below!
Peace & Love,