I am so thankful I decided to try this 30 day gratitude challenge. It’s crazy, but I believe it’s completely changed my life. When I started this challenge, I was miserable. I was insanely jealous that my friend got a $300k windfall for being in the right place at the right time while I was climbing out from the shambles of a failed company and abusive coworkers. I was still angry that years before, I had developed irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune problems, and gained 60 pounds in 6 months from a dysfunctional thyroid when most 20 year olds were in their physical prime. I was exasperated over my issues with seasonal affective disorder and anxiety, which left me oscillating between restless and fatigued. I felt like I was destined to misery, that ‘bad luck’ followed me everywhere I went, and that everyone around me had it better.
I no longer feel that way – and the funny thing is, my situation hasn’t really changed. I have. I don’t have any new financial windfalls, and I still struggle with my health. I do have a new, well-paying job that treats me well, but I still have difficult coworkers – one made me cry last week (nobody saw, of course). The difference is I focus on all the things I have, not the things I don’t. I feel richer and luckier than ever! I never thought I’d be thankful for Daylight Savings Time, the library, or the beautiful trails where I live, but I am – I am so, so grateful.
So, what is the key to happiness? I still don’t know. I did analyze my challenge progress around the 21 day mark, but I can distill the takeaways from my transformation into 2 practices: 1. Appreciating the good things, and 2. Reframing the bad.
Appreciating the good
Before this experiment, I completely missed all the great things in my life. I simply took them as a given, when arguably, I should never have. My outlook on a beautiful sunset was “Meh, it happens every day” and my opinion on the free breakfast my company serves was “So what? All tech companies have free food.” Which yes, those points are valid. It is true that sunsets happen every day, and that most tech companies (in the San Francisco Bay Area) have free food. However, it still doesn’t mean I should appreciate them any less.
Some of the small (and not-so-small) things I learned to appreciate:
- Nature. The San Francisco Bay Area is beautiful. The view of the bay from my company is gorgeous. The sunsets over Lake Elizabeth in Fremont are extraordinary. Fort Funston beach is breathtaking after storms – and the dogs love running around there!
- Libraries. I firmly believe knowledge is power – and libraries really help level the playing field. Before, knowledge was concentrated among the rich; now, people can go to the library and check out a multitude of books (the internet levels the playing field even more, but I enjoy how library books are arguably more curated). There are also so many interesting books about the randomest topics. Call me a nerd, but libraries provide hours upon hours of free entertainment!
- My parents. Like many kids, I hated my parents growing up. And that’s not to say I was totally unjustified – growing up with an implacable “tiger dad” wasn’t easy. He grew up with an abusive father who beat him and told him he was never good enough – and despite my dad’s best efforts, imparted some of that parenting style on to me. That said, I’ve learned to see all the wonderful things my parents DID for me. I am SO THANKFUL they paid for my tuition to Stanford – and they weren’t rich either. Both of them were poor immigrants who saved (and worked) like crazy to be able to give me a better life. Did you know both of my parents commuted 2 hours one way to work just so I could grow up in a house? Their company is in a high cost of living area, so it was either that or have me grow up in an apartment. I bitch about commuting all the time, and my commute is only a fraction of what they put up with. And it’s not only that – my parents taught me I could do anything. It didn’t matter that I was a girl, or a minority; I could do whatever I put my mind to. They taught me to work hard, to own my mistakes, and to always improve. I used to attribute my success to myself – that I’m successful because “I’m smart and hardworking” – but I never realized that my parents ARE THE REASON I’m smart and hardworking! Plenty of people grow up in families where their parents never teach them the value of hard work – and then go on to squander opportunities and become frustrated. I am so, so lucky to have parents who set me up for success.
- Daylight Savings Time. I absolutely love being able to go outside at 7pm and still have it be light out – and because I have seasonal affective disorder, my mood is so much better. It’s only been a week or so, and the change is night and day.
- Work perks. We get free breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and they have wonderful, healthy options. I am able to get fresh fruit and organic yogurt every morning, and a big salad with spring mix, carrots, beets, pickled onions, guacamole – the works, basically – every day. It’s infinitely easier to eat healthy when your company provides so many great options for you. I remember when I first joined, people told me I’d ‘get sick of the food’ after a couple months. I have a coworker (the toxic mean one :P) that complained that quesadillas are served on Thursdays instead of Fridays, so he has to choose between quesadillas and sushi every week (I’m serious). Well, guess what? I’ve been eating the same lunch at work for 8 months now and I appreciate it more and more every day!
Reframing the bad
As I said before, it’s not like the past month has been rainbows and butterflies. I could repaint it in a totally different light – “I was given a stressful project at work, so I had to work nights and weekends for 2 weeks. It triggered my anxiety and disordered eating, where I struggled with bulimia relapses. After that project, I had to work with a toxic coworker who unjustly complained about me to my boss multiple times. He also rudely dismissed me when I tried to defend myself. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy my weekends because of anxiety over returning to work on Mondays and even cried one evening late at the office. Oh, and my car was recalled for airbag problems again.”
But alas, that story only focuses on the bad things! If you spin it right, challenges can often become opportunities. I can reframe the negative events last month:
- My boss gave me that difficult project because he trusts me. I did have to work hard, but I pulled it off successfully, to everyone’s delight – and I’m sure it will help me secure a promotion later this year. I’ve heard of women complaining that they were always overlooked for the best projects – and I’ve just been getting better and better ones. I’m so lucky to have a boss that trusts me and is giving me projects so I can grow.
- I did have bulimia relapses, but seeing how blogging helped me stick to my gratitude challenge inspired me to do a “Whole 30” challenge on this blog. I intend to finally overcome my disordered eating patterns and develop a healthier relationship with food. I’ve tried various “30 day self improvement challenges” before, but never had much success until this gratitude blog. I think the difference is blogging makes me feel accountable. Even on days I don’t want to post, I still do it – so the world can see I walk the walk.
- Working with the toxic coworker was hard, but I did learn some best practices that will help me become a better engineer. It’s also helping me build a thicker skin. I am not as fazed if someone talks over me or cuts me off – if they don’t respect me enough to let me finish my sentences, they don’t DESERVE my opinion.
- Car recalls are annoying, but I’m so lucky I got the recall notice. ~10 people were killed for the airbag recall, and ~100 injured. If I didn’t hear about the recall, I could’ve been one of those people! Additionally, going to the dealer wasn’t so bad. I was able to get an appointment quickly, and they even washed my car!
Where do we go from here?
I blogged about my gratitude challenge for 2 reasons: 1. To hold myself accountable, and 2. To inspire others to do the same. So many people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. It’s easy to be all rainbows and butterflies when everything is going well for you – but not so easy when the skies are gray and your seasonal affective disorder is kicking your ass. 😉
I’m going to continue my gratitude practice, just in a personal journal instead of blogging. After all, I highly doubt many people care about the unique details of my personal life. In fact, I’ve been growing increasingly guilty blogging about all the advantages I have that I simply didn’t see before. It’s like Sam Polk, the Wall Street trader that was angry over a $3.6 million bonus (minus the millionaire part).
I also got a fun guided journal called “99 Things That Bring Me Joy“, which gives you a prompts like “your favorite books” to fill in. I thought it would be a nice companion to my “regular” gratitude journal, because it would force me to come up with new things to be grateful for.
I plan to provide “Gratitude Challenge” updates at monthly intervals going forward. I do anticipate a bit of a challenge transitioning to writing vs blogging (harder to stay accountable), but I hope that the past 30 days is enough to form a habit.
Until then, onward and upward!