In my last video, I mentioned one of the ways I counteract a grumbling attitude with gratitude. Well, that seemed to pique some interest, so today I’m going to share my tactic. But first, the back story.
I’d like to consider myself a glass-half-full kinda person. Cheery. Optimistic. Smily. And sometimes (usually?) I am.
But WOW can I be a Negative Nancy (an unfortunate term since one of the most inspiring, uplifting humans I know is named Nancy.) I can be very skilled at keeping a running list of frustrations, disappointments, complaints, perceived injustices…you get the idea. My mind swirls with discontent, my face starts to look all irritated, my posture slumps, and I begin uttering complaints. Glass. Half. Empty. It’s not uplifting for me, it’s not uplifting for my loved ones (since they’re the ones I unload on), and come to find out, it’s not uplifting for my physical health (try googling “effects of complaining” and some of the first phrases you’ll notice are ‘brain damage’ and ‘high blood pressure’. Yikes.) *Note: there is no picture of Glass-Half-Empty-Tommi because, well, who really takes miserable selfies?
So when I was asked to facilitate Mindfulness and Meditation classes for cancer patients a few years ago, I wanted to find a way to help guide their minds into a place of gratitude that would support the physical health of their bodies. How? As I started considering gratitude, I quickly realized that I didn’t really know what an authentic expressions of gratitude in the midst of grumbling looked like. I knew what the fake gratitude looked like-that delusional, disproportionate, hyped up kind of gratitude.
And I knew what forced gratitude looked like- manipulating myself or others to ‘just be grateful’. As in, “stop complaining about your dinner; you should just be grateful you have food.” Or “well, it could be worse; you could be blind.” Or, “say thank you. NOW!”
But I was trying to find a different kind of gratitude. One that was real and honest and messy. The kind of gratitude rooted in faith, hope and love. The fruitful kind.
But that brought me right back to my original question: how do we drum up gratitude in the midst of real suffering, hardship, illness, grief, pain, conflict, hormones, trauma, anger, irritability, stress, divorce, death, cancer….? How??
Honestly, I’m not sure. But for a few years now, I’ve been using a formula I concocted called the 5 P’s of Gratitude, and wow does it guide me out of grumbling. My clients said it helped them, too. I may not always feel grateful after this exercise (though usually I do) but it at least helps me play the devil’s advocate to my complaining (another unfortunate term since the process I’m about to describe is anything but an advocate for evil. More like devil’s opponent.)
So here it is; the 5 P’s of Gratitude:
I get out my journal, write PEOPLE, and then list every.single.person. who comes to mind. Family members living and passed and still in the womb. Friends past and present. Co-workers. Historic figures. Artists. Writers. Athletes. Teachers. Political and Civil Rights activists who made strides toward justice and peace and love. My unbelievable midwives. Missionaries who never made it home, and those who did and wrote books about their experiences. The nameless face of the barista in Philly who always smiled when I walked into the coffee shop. The men who collect our trash & recycles. The person who invented the pool noodle that brings so much joy to my kids. The woodworker who built my coffee table I bought at World Market years ago. The person who named the color of my favorite nail polish ‘fearless’. All the Ikea people. The 10th century goat herder who discovered coffee. You get the idea. It’s amazing how many people enrich our lives.
Next, I write PLACES, and list out every.single.place. that stirs up gratitude. My current home in Georgia. My hometown in southern Massachusetts. Troy, Alabama where I went to college. The sorority house I lived in (true story.) Panama City Beach, FL where I spent so many summers. Almaty, Kazakhstan where I spent 2 summers. My first real grown up home in Pensacola. The Almafi Coast in all its splendor. Actually, all of Italy. The Pensacola church where I met Micah. The beach where we had our first date. The Holiday Inn in Boston where we got married (true story.) The Naval Hospital where I became a mom for the first time (Silas). Our kitchen where I became a home birth mom for the first time (Sam). The YMCA. The corner of my couch. Philadelphia. My bedroom solitude. Ikea. Starbucks. The Farmers Market. All the shoe stores. Nail salons and day spas. A friend’s new home in New Mexico that I hope to see one day. The Pacific Ocean. The rocky shores of Maine. The waterfall where my dear friend slipped from this world and fell into Heaven when we were 21. Heaven. Newfound Lake, New Hampshire. TJMaxx. Our community pool. Movie theaters with big leather recliners. Sushi bars. Martini bars. Chocolate bars.
Next, I write POSSESSIONS and…you get it. My piano. a favorite chair. A favorite pair of earrings. My lipgloss. Old journals. Old-school pictures from the 80’s. My Chemex coffee maker. Our minivan. iPhone. MacBook. fuzzy slippers. Comfy pj’s. Sharpies. A good ball point pen. Houseplants. Coffee mug. Fire pit. Solar eclipse glasses that will hopefully help us not burn our retinas later today. Books. My amazingly comfortable king-size bed. My bathtub and a lock on my door that keeps kids out. A summer dress I feel pretty in. Coconut body lotion. LED string lights on the back porch. Camping chairs. Beautiful paintings from the children’s great grandmother, Mama Joan. Candlesticks from my Nana Bea. My education. My food processor. My 3 personal assistants- Crock Pot, Washing Machine & Dish Washer.
Here comes the harder part. Next, I write PROBLEMS, take a deep breath, and begin thanking God for my problems. Not because they’re fantastic & awesome and I just can’t help but smile, but because I am beginning to understand that grief and gratitude can intermingle, and the one supports the other. Mysterious? To me, yes. Hard to put into words? For me, yes. Possible? For me, it has been. Many times, I have been asked to walk through dark valleys that leave me feeling that surely I won’t make it out. These are the times that trusted friends hold me up and help me lift my eyes to the One who gives and takes away. And gives again. To the One who dispels fear and darkness. To the One who can handle my questions and accusations and cold shoulder and crying and complaining. And somehow, the tears water a new hope even while in the valley. And somehow I find myself mysteriously thankful, much like a woman holding her baby after endless hours of labor and in pain even still. Overwhelmed with gratitude that the weight of the difficulty didn’t crush, but delivered something new. A wise mentor regularly reminds me that my sufferings can be a birthing process, bringing new life if only I am willing to labor. To allow the suffering to bring forth a new life. A new hope. A new path. A new perspective. I’m still very much learning this truth, but I can tell you that I have experienced this grief and gratitude intermingled in regards to broken relationships, difficult finances, poor health and illness, loss and death, anxiety and panic attacks, sleepless nights/weeks/months, fear of the unknown or ‘what’s next’, depression.
Lastly, I write POSSIBILITIES and begin listing all my dreams and hopes and imagined outcomes. When stuck in a rut of complaining, it’s very difficult to imagine different outcomes other than the miserable one you are shuffling toward. But considering the possibilities, the alternate endings, is absolutely fantastic. When I do this, I can literally feel hope rising. Nothing’s too outrageous or silly or unrealistic. Just dreaming with the God of limitless possibilities. What if this argument doesn’t end with the typical cold shoulder for 3 days? What if it ends with working together to find a solution to something broken? What if the early morning with an energetic toddler is filled with attentive, patient care instead of irritability? What if I really do stick to a workout program that brings improved health and strength? The Holidays are so stressful; what might it look like to have a quiet, peaceful holiday season? What might it look like if I said ‘NO’ to that invitation, or ‘YES’ to that opportunity?
The God of limitless possibilities invites us into a life of gratitude, not just because we should, but because it really is good for us. For our relationships, our soul, our body, our minds, our faith, our children, our communities, our world.