We’ve all been there— that embarrassingly dark point in our life on which we do not wish to dwell; the time our whole selves, body, mind and soul, were scrunched up with rage and negativity, never able to see the good things in a situation. Instead, with laser-like precision, we honed in on all the things that were unequivocally wrong in our lives, all the things we wanted but didn’t have because life was a giant, unyielding boot heel, and we always seemed to be the face upon which it was smashed.
If you’re in that place right now: I’m so sorry, but good news! It really does get better. You won’t always be an embittered ball of rage, grief, hostility and regret. A lot of the time, if you’re in that sunken place, it takes more than just a quick mental pep talk to pull yourself out of it, and in fact, you may be contending with external forces beyond your control. But knowing that your life will get better, you will be happy and fulfilled, you do have meaning— that knowledge can be enhanced by practicing gratitude.
Now, you may be saying to yourself: “I feel like the human equivalent of a raging dumpster fire, and my life has imploded around me. Why should I be grateful?” Well, my friend, if you’re here, reading this article, chances are you’ve heard about manifestation and the Law of Attraction, which will only add more kindling to your garbage fire if you manifest from a place of lack. If you desperately want something however you are locked in a frazzled, negative headspace: all you will get is more woe-is-me negativity, because that’s what you are projecting out into the world. which the universe will return unto you, tenfold. Funny how that works, right?
I was there six months ago, and I remember that unpleasant time well. If you’re unsure where to start, bamboozled by the costly “mental bootcamps,” “lifestyle gurus,” and “top-secret, life-changing programs,” don’t freak out. Here are three easy (and totally free!) ways to start practicing gratitude right away. But also: make sure it’s genuine. If you’re faking the funk when you do these gratitude exercises, they will not work, and you’ll find yourself even more frustrated than before:
WRITE DOWN THREE THINGS
The first challenge I would give to you is to simply write down three things you are grateful for right in that moment. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and in fact can be something so small, you usually take it for granted (“I’m grateful for the clothes I am wearing. I’m grateful that I have food to eat. I’m grateful that I have clean water to drink.”) These are not small things, they’re actually huge, and they’re all true. Keep all your focus on the things you have, and how amazing it is that you have them, and soon you’ll find there’s a surplus of things in your life to be happy about.
BE KIND, IT LITERALLY COSTS NOTHING
You know when you’re in such a negative headspace, and literally everyone is the worst, most-flawed abomination you’ve ever met, and why do they suck so bad? Actually, that’s a ‘you’ problem. Every single person on the planet has some redeeming quality to them, and the sooner you notice the good about the people in your life (yes, even the people you actually find annoying as heck), the sooner you’ll start appreciating them. It costs nothing to be kind and flip a negative into a positive, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.
Start by recognizing the good things about the people you love and why you’re lucky to have them in your life. If you don’t take the time to smell the roses, unfortunately, it seems you’ll forget they were even there in the first place, so make sure you take some time to really appreciate the little things. Even if it’s just a regular ‘good morning’ text, or a short ride to work. If you have a pet (I swear the universe aligned for me when I adopted my cat. He is my best friend, and he tops my daily list of things I’m grateful for every time), pay extra attention to them: snuggle them, play with them, take them for a walk or give them a special treat. After awhile you won’t have to practice kindness and positivity, they will be reflexive, just part of who you are.
TAKE CARE OF WHAT YOU HAVE
Are you desperately wanting a new car, or a whole new place to call home? These big-ticket things won’t happen overnight, but you can help them get to you a little faster by taking care of what you already have. Make the most of it: if your current house is “too small,” clean it up a little bit. Take out the mop, vacuum, duster, and floor polish. Re-organize your stuff so that it suits you better, designate a corner of the house for something you truly enjoy. If you collect figurines, put up shelves for them. If you want to make more time to read, there are plenty of discount bookshops. If cooking is your true passion, keep your kitchen clean and make the feast of your dreams.
Find a way to imbue your space with the things that make you happy— it can be as simple as hanging up cherished photos, or throwing out all the crumpled-up water bottles and old fast food bags in your car and hanging a new air freshener. You’ll eventually get the new house/car/whatever it is you want, but in the meantime, finding ways to love what you have is a good practice.
I can assure you, without doubt, that all of these things work. Six months ago I was convinced I would never be able to leave where I was; now, I live in my own place that’s exactly to my tastes. The bitterness and anger that once accompanied me through my everyday life have melted away, replaced by pure, unfettered joy, and genuine curiosity at what’s going to happen next, rather than dread at what else could possibly go wrong. I’m no longer hobbled by envy or jealousy or feeling completely out-of-control, unloved and adrift. If you can relate to any of that, and you just want to be better, I promise: it’ll happen. But the first step to get to where you’re going— and probably the biggest— is gratitude.