The Gratitudes: A Hardened Cynic Goes Soft
This is an interesting article that was brought to my attention.
I have started it. And we’ll see where it takes me. I think I’ll even make a little notebook for my lists.
The Gratitudes: A Hardened Cynic Goes Soft
By Amy Leigh Morgan
When I was younger, I cultivated an attitude of worldly negativity the way some people studied for the bar exam. I knew some sincere, optimistic people, sure. I even befriended a few of them. But I would rather have eaten my own arm than participate in anything smacking of Oprah Winfrey, the New Age, or any other self-help hoo-ha. This attitude served me well for a long time and I found no reason to change until about three years ago when my life began to fall apart. I won’t bore you with the details, except in synopsis: three deaths of people dear to me, a heartbreaking relationship that took two years to implode, a close friend diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. There were other, smaller disasters, too, but those are the highlights.
As I watched my life disintegrate, I discovered two things. One: in the face of honest despair, worldly negativity is about as useful as a designer handbag in a war zone—it’s cute, but it’s not going to save your life. Two: I had no other way to cope with these traumas except to lie on the floor and think idly about killing myself. I realized that I had to try something new before things got out of hand. And so I performed an act of sheer desperation: I wrote to the most sincere, optimistic woman I know and I asked her for advice.
Intentions and GratitudesHer response was quick and gracious. She even gave me detailed instructions. They were so simple that I almost didn’t follow them. I may have snorted in cynical disdain the first time I read them. Then I remembered that she speaks four languages, travels constantly, and has been her own boss for years. She is, in fact, the happiest person I know. In the comparison sheet of our lives, she came out ahead on every count. Though it hurt to admit, sincerity and optimism were gaining ground.
First easy instruction: Set aside a few minutes every couple of days to write down 13 Intentions (things I want to do, have, be). Second easy instruction: Write down 13 Gratitudes (things I already have and am grateful for). Simple, yes? Well, the Intentions were easy. There were a million things that I wanted to do, have, or be. But the Gratitudes … now that was another story. I actually cried when I made my first Gratitude lists because they reminded me of all I’d lost, all that I could no longer be grateful for. But it was good to remember the things I still had, like indoor plumbing, electricity, and the Internet. Sometimes I’d list the Internet twice, just to make it easier on myself.
As months passed, the Intentions became something I rushed through in order to get to the Gratitudes. The Gratitudes, though harder, intrigued me. They revealed a map of my pleasures in a time when I was sure there were none left. One day I noticed that my Gratitudes were (gasp!) expanding. In addition to the Internet and indoor plumbing, I found that I was grateful for red flannel sheets, ripe cantaloupe, and the cute baristas at the coffee shop near my house. The more I noticed these small pleasures, the more I remembered to indulge myself in them. The more I indulged myself in them, the better I felt. I got rid of the cold, white, scratchy sheets I hated and bought another set of red flannel sheets. I splurged on ripe cantaloupe. I bought a coffee every morning so I could flirt with the baristas. These things may not sound exciting to you, but they felt a lot like luxury to me.
Discovering Your Own Personal PleasuresAnd that is the point. Mapping your Gratitudes is about discovering your own, very personal pleasures. It allows you to appreciate what’s already there, right in front of your face. And once you recognize it, it’s easier to say “yes” to it more often. Saying yes to smaller pleasures gave me the courage to say yes to larger pleasures, ones I might not have noticed before tuning into this strange new station. For example, I started reading fairy tales for the first time in years, simply because I loved them. This led me to write my own fairy tales. The positive feedback I received from my friends gave me the courage to start a creative writing workshop that is now in its second sold-out round. No kidding: This fruity, New Age stuff actually works.
Mapping your Gratitudes brings you face to face with the truth of yourself—what you really like, who you really are. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting things you think you should want; it’s harder (and more important) to know what you honestly enjoy, regardless of what your internal critics say. We spend so much of our lives mapping our discontent. We recite constant litanies of lack and need. “More money, less weight, better job, better sex, better skin …” But how often do we recite litanies of abundance and pleasure? Not often enough, apparently. There is value in knowing what doesn’t work in your life. Your discontent tells you where to make adjustments, where things could be better. But I have discovered that there is more than a little value in knowing what does work in your life, especially when times get rough.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Give it a try. It’s easy. First jot down a list of Intentions (things you want to do, have, and be). State them as if they are already happening: I am out of credit card debt; I enjoy a peaceful, happy relationship with my partner; I look great; etc. Then jot down a list of Gratitudes (things you already have and enjoy): I am grateful for my good health; I am grateful that I have the brains and leisure to do this exercise; I am grateful for the people I love; etc.
Try it at least every third day for a couple of weeks. You’ll be surprised at how things change for the better in your life. And that’s no fairy tale.Amy Leigh Morgan is a writer, photographer, and recovering cynic who lives in Seattle.