I’ve never really had what one philosophically optimistic throw pillow might describe as “an attitude of gratitude.” One of my earliest Christmas memories centers on the chaos that ensued after I asked my parents if the gift I had just opened could be exchanged for a pair of My Little Pony dress-up heels with sequins embedded in the plastic straps. “How much time have you got?” is my standard reply when people ask how my day is going. And of course, if you don’t have anything nice to say, well, you know where to sit.
If you’re still reading at this point, and believe me I’ve closed tabs for far less, you should know that in the back of my mind, I always knew my situation was different. That not everyone had Maslow’s Hierarchy covered so thoroughly from top to bottom. Roof over my head. Food on the table. A car I liked picking up from valet. A family that returned calls and texts if I needed anything, ever. But does a vague awareness of your privilege make you truly happy? Was I one of those people others describe as joyful? Good natured? Optimistic? Ah, no.
And so, with an editorial prompt to meditate on thankfulness and an eye toward that annual tradition of laying “What I’m Grateful For!” in front of friends and relatives on Thanksgiving, I thought it might be time to extricate myself from a predisposition toward Debbie Downer-adjacent filters. You guys, I tried one of those gratitude journey apps for 30 days, and here’s what happened.
The first thing you should know is, there are a lot of them. Thankfully. (Right? See, I’m trying.) So you have your pick of frameworks that invite you to share as much or as little as you like. Some have alarms. Or let you save photos. Others are well branded and less embarrassing to look at every day on your home screen. I chose the latter. Downloaded it. Set two timers. And went on living my life, waiting to stumble upon my first entry. (Praise be.)
10 p.m. The alarm beeps. I start thinking really hard.
If anything, it demonstrates that I was probably over-thinking. What would other people think I should be thankful for? What would I want my mother-in-law, generally acknowledged to be the kindest, most humble, and appreciative person in three states, to read over my shoulder? The next few are similar. When the alarm went off, I dutifully reflected on the big things. My beautiful children. Our family’s health. And then, one morning while I wasn’t thinking, a new entry floated through my mind completely unbidden.
I pulled out my phone and tapped it in. Lightbulb. Instead of having a set time to make a notation, I began training myself to recognize the micro-moments of gratitude, or scenarios for which I should be grateful, and write them down immediately. To my surprise, I was:
Thankful my son forgot about Moana for a full week.
Relieved I found a missing earring at the bottom of my purse.
Pleased my husband separated the mail and recycled what we didn’t need.
Truly happy to take part in jury duty.
Glad the dog finally laid down instead of wandering up and down the stairs after the kids went to sleep.
Little things? You bet. But acknowledging them made it much more difficult to see an entire day as awful because one thing went wrong. So I forgot to pick up the meat for dinner and now we’re having vegetarian meatball subs (don’t ask). So that friend never texted me back. I stepped in a puddle. Forgot my laptop cord at home. And on and on. For every perceived slight. For every time I stood at the crossroads of glass half full and glass half empty, there were (and would continue to be) a dozen equally great things to balance them out. I’m not saying we need to keep score, but a little perspective thanks to, say, something as simple as a gratitude app, might get you pointed in the right direction.
Top image via Lisa Dengler
Kate Smith is a content producer for a beloved Minnesota retailer, wife to Fred and mother to Samson (6) and Naomi (3). With her allotted 30 seconds of daily free time, Kate likes to make a frozen Tom Collins, grab her new book on nurturing adult friendships and pretend she can’t hear her family knocking on the other side of the bathroom door.
BY Kate Smith - December 16, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.