Thoughts on Gratitude From A Recovering Pessimist

It’s possible I was born a pessimist. Or maybe it set in later, during a sometimes difficult childhood and adolescence. Regardless, I spent a lot of time wearing a “glass is half empty” badge with a certain amount of pride.

I told people I wasn’t a pessimist, I was a realist.

Deep down, I knew my attitude was protective. When you believe bad things are going to happen, it feels vulnerable to focus on good things, or (gasp!) to expect them.

But as I got older, my pessimism started to wear thin. I knew my inner landscape needed to change, but there was still a tug of war between my habitual mindset and the new place I was trying to reach.

Enter the 30-day gratitude challenge I recently completed with a group of colleagues. It’s the first time in my entire life I’ve noted what I’m grateful for, every day, for a consistent period of time.

I think it’s started to rewire my brain.

Every day I wrote down 5 things I was grateful for. They could be big or little. They could repeat. Sometimes I shared them with my colleagues, sometimes I kept them to myself.

During that month, I had rough days. I DID NOT WANT to think about gratitudes on those days. But I’d made a promise to people I respect, and I’ve also learned if you only do things when they feel easy, you’re skipping out on the most valuable part of the game.

So I wrote those gratitudes down, every day. Some days all I could muster was that my blankets were warm, or that I was breathing. Other days I could have easily listed 10 things that felt amazing and joyful.

It probably comes as no surprise that I learned the most from the hard days. On those days, stopping to focus on anything – ANYTHING – that didn’t suck started a positive feedback loop. I’d struggle to think of one good thing, but once I’d managed that, several more would follow. And I’d feel lighter, happier.

It’s easy to turn being grateful into a platitude, something that denies our difficult feelings. I don’t ever want to do that, because feelings like sadness and anger are part of being alive, and have things to teach us.

But maybe taking the time to feel gratitude, every single day, is a powerful way to remind us that everything ebbs and flows. Where there is darkness, there will always be light again.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be keeping up my new daily practice. If you give it a try, I hope you find it as powerful as I do.

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