By Lauren Nagel, Owning Pink
I’ve always been a please and thank you kinda gal. I’ll interrupt the dinner conversation to genuinely thank the busser for refilling my water glass, and make eye contact when expressing gratitude that a stranger held the elevator for me.
But I’ve never been one to truly examine what I’m grateful for in my, you know, life. In fact, I kind of have an upchuck reaction when I hear things like “gratitude journal” or “gratitude practice” – it puts the woo in woo-woo, and the rebellious teenager in me wants to roll my eyes and scoff.
But I come to you today a fully blown convert. A changed woman. Two woos just aren’t enough – my life calls for woo cubed. And what better week than that of Thanksgiving to finally own this facet of my life?
My name is Lauren Nagel, and I’m a gratitude-a-holic.
And from the ashes, a phoenix is born…
Like most exponentially wonderful elements of my life, my gratitude addiction was born out of pain. (Why the hell it takes darkness to shed light is another post altogether, but lemme tell you, it never ceases to amaze me…)
A little less than a year ago, my friend Bodine called with some devastating news – her dear friend, whom I had met only briefly the month before, had died suddenly in a climbing accident. I sat on the phone, wishing I were beside her on the couch of her Brooklyn apartment with a cup of tea (vodka) and a box of tissues (more vodka).
The scene was all too familiar – just a few months before, I had lost my mom to a very fast and brutal battle with pancreatic cancer. Bodine had held space for me and we closed the miles between us, snotting into our cell phones and questioning how and why the f-ck this happens. And now… I was devastated to have an opportunity to “return the favor” so quickly.
The question of what to “do” with grief is like attempting to bottle a cloud – it’s elusive, and consuming, and though you may feel like you’ve sequestered it behind the glass, it looks like nothing and the dampness seeps beyond the seal. But Bodine was determined to channel her energy somewhere, into something – and quietly started writing. “Radically Grateful,” she called the blog. “365 days of looking for joy without religion or pharmaceuticals.” It was f-cking brilliant.
I found myself checking Bodine’s blog everyday. Sometimes she wrote about big things – her husband, the sweet life they’d created in Bedstuy, good friends, sunshine. But most days she expressed gratitude for the seemingly little things – a particularly great cup of coffee, a free seat on a packed subway… The blog provided insight into Bodine’s life in a way I’d never experienced and held such beautiful reverence for the vitality and joy of the friend she’d lost. She hadn’t bottled the cloud, but laid smack in the middle of it and made snow angels. I was inspired.
Full of Grate Great
I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to start my own blog o’ gratitude. Admittedly, starting this practice for myself also came out of no-holds-barred desperation. I was struggling to see the light at the end of my tunnel. I was battling illness after illness, fighting the physical manifestations of trauma and grief (hard to say, “I’m not stressed” when your skin is physically blistering with shingles at the age of 27). And I was tired of it. I loved seeing the joy in Bodine’s life, and I was ready for some of that up in mine.
I wrote down two ground rules:
- Write everyday, even when – especially when – you don’t want to.
- Be honest.
I realized quickly that this practice was about being real – the woo-woo nature of “gratitude journals” that had initially bothered me was that feeling that I needed to write about sunbeams and unicorns. Like I needed to pretend that I wasn’t sad and still wrestling, daily – hourly, at times – with my cloud. That kind of gratitude felt foreign and forced and decidedly un-me. I wasn’t going to fake my way into joy, and my blog quickly became a reflection of that (in my first post I openly cursed the sun on Earth Day, because it was “too sunny”. I am a delight).
Wouldn’t you know it, but gratitude is a contagious bugger
Soon after starting my blog, I noticed that my life began to change. I became more conscious of the little things, more present. I found myself constantly jotting down what I “should write about later” – which meant that I was constantly observing all that I was grateful for. Sometimes it was a fortuitous streak of green lights on my way home. Sometimes it was blueberry jam. Once it was a gigantic frozen margarita, the picture of which unapologetically filled the entire blog’s page.
And slowly but surely, I actually was writing about “sunbeams and unicorns” everyday. My gratitude muscle was back in shape – or perhaps in shape for the very first time – and my ability to see the upside of most situations became innate. Bad headache? Grateful for Advil. Stuck in traffic? Grateful for NPR. Really missing my mom? Sigh. Well, friends and family with whom to snot on the phone and recall my fondest memories. (And a big ass frozen margarita.)
As my gratitude practice gained momentum in my life, it also planted the seed for others. Emily started her daily practice in “Gunboats and Gratitude” and Erika began her positive musings in “Uplooking”. We didn’t hide our rebellious teenagers, scoffing at the woo-woo idea of practicing graciousness – we embraced them. We got our gratitude on, on our terms. It felt f-cking fantastic.
I got a fever, and the only remedy is more… gratitude?
And here we are. Friends, I’m addicted to gratitude. I haven’t indulged as much in recent months (my last written post was in… August?! Due to carpal tunnel symptoms) and it hasn’t been pretty. When I don’t take stock of the awesomeness in my life, I get cranky, sleepless… cloudy. The teenager inside – who once psh’ed the very idea – now comes out in full force, suddenly stamping feet and screaming bloody murder that she hasn’t said thank you enough recently. WTF, right?
At Owning Pink, we invite you be all you, all the time – and on your own terms. So here are a few guidelines on how I rocked my gratitude practice – I invite you take ‘em, mishmash ‘em, and make ‘em your own!
- Pick a fun space to write in/on. If the idea of a glitter journal makes you gag, grab a legal pad. If you want a pink feather pen, go get one. If the idea of writing makes you cringe, grab your cell and leave yourself a voicemail or vocal recording. (I’ve been recording them of late to keep the strain off my hands!)
- Set a frequency goal that feels do-able. If daily feels daunting, try every other day. Or try daily just for a week, and see how you feel after that. Rock it once a month if that resonates with you – just set something.
- If it feels good to set aside a particular time of day to write – like as soon as you wake up or right before you hit the sack – go for it. If not, no worries, just try to stick with your frequency goal.
- If you feel the rebellious teenager running rampant in your practice, let her. (“Ugh, whatever, I’m grateful that I’m almost done with this sentence so I can be done with this stupid gratitude practice today.”) You’ll get sick of her and she’ll go to her room when she’s ready.**
- Tell one good friend. Gratitude is meant to be shared, and she can help keep you accountable to your practice. (It’s also worth mentioning that my One Friend was Joy Mazzola, Owning Pink’s former awesome editor in pink. And it was after reading my blog that she recommended me for this job. So who KNOWS what your practice will bring!)
- Go go gadget gratitude! (Or um, just do it. Or some other catch phrase along those lines.)
** If you DO, however, notice that there is something consistently coming up in your life that you’re definitely NOT grateful for (toxic relationship, stifling job), pay attention. Gratitude has a funny way of weeding out the awesomeness in your life, which can sometimes actually shed light on the less-than awesome. The bratty teenager within may be telling you that you need a change.
As you can imagine, Thanksgiving is AMAZING for gratitude addicts. It’s like the whole country gets a hit of what we smoke every day (ok this metaphor is starting to feel weird). So this Thanksgiving, I invite you all to get your gratitude fix. We can start below – go ahead, write one thing you’re grateful for. It can be cheese! It can be your daughter or husband or pet lizard! It can be the internet you’re pirating from your neighbor to read this very post! Just see what it feels like to flex that muscle. I dare ya.
What are YOU grateful for?
- Thank you: A Thumbs Up From the Universe…and a Reader (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)
- Ask Angela: Is self-confidence the same as arrogance? (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)
- The Gift of Freedom: Remembering September 11, 2001 (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)
- Link Love Friday: Five Articles to Brighten Your Day (inpursuitoffulfillment.com)