Gratitude is my attitude.
But it wasn't always so. I've struggled for the past several years with PTSD following a sexual assault (if you're interested, you can read more about this here). PTSD is a disease that is centered around fear and shame, plus throw in some depression and a little anxiety for good measure. It runs the whole spectrum of negativity. Not surprisingly, when my PTSD was at its worst, I couldn't see any goodness in my life. At all. I lost the ability to feel anything...because numbing yourself to everything is a hallmark of PTSD.
So, how do you find your way back? How do you begin to feel again?
For me, it started with gratitude.
I love how Meg says, "Gratitude is the foundation of joy." I think it's totally true.
In my case, gratitude became the foundation for all the feelings. It might surprise you to know that the immediate treatment for trauma survivors doesn't involve talking about emotions at all. The last thing the experts want you to do is to think or talk about how you feel. Instead, we identify ways to distance ourselves from the event, to focus and ground ourselves in the here and now rather than to continue re-living our trauma. Then, we can slowly work on integrating emotion back into our lives. And by slowly, I mean over the course of months or years. Because when I started feeling my feelings, I felt all the feelings. Intensely. Which is great for things like joy and love and happiness...but completely sucks for things like frustration and irritation and anger.
So, one of the first things my therapist had me do was start keeping a gratitude journal. Every night before going to bed, I spent 15 minutes writing down all the things I was grateful for that day. At first, it was difficult. I had a hard time coming up with 3 things that I was grateful for, but over time it got easier. Soon, I was listing 5 and then 10 and then 20+ things I was grateful for every day. Once you start looking for gratitude, you'll find more and more gratitude. Gratitude multiplies, allowing us to see though eyes colored by thanksgiving, letting us feel through hearts coated in appreciation. When I found myself becoming irrationally angry (or irritated or frustrated), I would simply look through my gratitude journal. I could see all the beauty and wonder that was a part of my everyday life and suddenly, the anger would soften, then eventually float away. She's wicked smart, my therapist...
And this, I realized, was the whole point of keeping a gratitude journal.
Yes, the exercise of looking for things about which to feel grateful was valuable. But more important was the emotional change this exercise brought to my psyche. Gratitude became my attitude. And still is.