Yesterday’s post was more than a little depressing. It ended on an ok note I guess, but not ok enough for me to write something equally heavy today. Today I want to talk about gratitude, because it seems like such a little thing but it can be so huge. There was a post in my April 2013 Babies group last night reminding everyone to thank their nurses. It was a repost of an article about how being a nurse can be thankless and difficult, so we should keep in mind how much they do for us as patients when we are elated as our newborns arrive. As always, some lady responds that they are “doing their job” and if they don’t like it they can find another line of work, no one needs to be thanked for that. Having worked customer service for many years I have experienced a ton of customers like that, and continue to laugh at the horrifying stories on websites like Not Always Right. People like that are angry, usually juvenile, have never worked a service job in their life, and desperately unhappy. Money and status over those that serve you is no way to become happy or better than someone else. Actually, I kind of wonder what makes them need to be better than someone else in the first place. Usually that comes from some sort of deficiency in their self-confidence.
The fact is that gratitude can go a really long way to boosting someone’s mood and self-confidence. I was going to quote scientific studies about this fact, but decided against it. The point of this blog is personal experience and inspiration. As a result, for those that want some pop culture sources I found this MedNet article on gratitude and help, this Christian Broadcast Network article on the same thing, and one more from Psychology Today. What I’m going to talk about this is how I learned to be thankful and express gratitude as an adult.
Going back probably 18 years ago or more, I can’t really remember, as a child I was really uncomfortable telling people thank you. I got red, stammered, became really embarrassed. My mom would have killed me if she realized how often I escaped cars after getting a ride from someone, or accepted gifts without a single word of thanks. I don’t know if I recognized as a kid that sometimes accepting help makes you seem weak, or if I seemed like an extrovert but was really an introvert, but I do know I have always been horribly awkward in social situations. I felt like a terrible person every time I did it. Frankly, that might be part of the reason I ended up cutting as a teen in the first place. I was so convinced that I didn’t deserve anything I had, my bed was too good for me, I didn’t deserve the roof over my head, I should be thrown on the streets and left to fend for myself. Feeling that way seems silly now, but it’s entirely possible that whole issue was one of gratitude. I was constantly telling myself I didn’t deserve things, and therefore felt strange thanking people for things I didn’t deserve.
When I got to college I decided I was not going to be the same person anymore. I was no longer going to be embarrassed by sexual innuendo and I was going to suck it up and participate in things that made me uncomfortable. It worked. I now not only am capable of making most people blush about sexual discussions before I even raise an eyebrow, but I also no longer stammer when I tell people thank you. I met some amazing people my first round of undergrad and I am still close to a handful (maybe more!) of them. I attribute this to slowly learning how to express gratitude and focus on something other than myself. It’s not perfect, but it works. I’m grateful for my friends, I respect them and I love them. I count their love as a huge blessing, not one that I deserve, but one that I receive. I can do nothing but thank them for that, there is no way for me to express to them how much it means to me. My attitude has completely changed from one of despair, knowing that I will never be able to repay them for their love and kindness, to one of pure joy that someone feels I am worth that sort of time and effort. It’s made a drastic change in my outlook on life. In fact, over the last few months I have done nothing but fret over the horror that is my baby shower. It doesn’t feel like my party. My mother-in-law is being super secretive about it, even to the point of not really sharing anything with my mom, I hate surprises. I hate opening gifts in front of people. I hate formal parties that are directed towards me. About a week ago I realized the shower is at capacity for the room she booked. There will be nearly as many people celebrating my new baby as my wedding. These people are not coming for the shower because let’s be honest, no one likes a formal baby shower, they are coming to celebrate with me and Terry. As much as I’m not excited about the rest of it, I am so grateful that people love us enough to celebrate this new life with us. There are a number of people that are supplying us with hand-me-downs, and shopping at local thrift stores for outfits. I guess a decent amount of books have shown up with notes to my child, which is what I asked people to send. I actually have found some peace in that sentiment, and that is creating some excitement for me.
So now, how does one go about making that change from desperately undeserving to grateful? I started with people I didn’t know. Restaurant servers, drive-thru workers, nurses, retail employees, all of these people deserve to be thanked when they treat you with kindness and respect. It was easier for me to begin with people I would never see again. If I turned red and stammered not only did they not care, I did’t have to explain myself to them ever. This developed a habit for me of saying thank you and being gracious and grateful for people’s kindness. Just like self-injury is a learned habit, gratitude as a coping skill is also learned. It shouldn’t be reserved for the holiday seasons, people deserve to be recognized and respected all the time. There are a lot of “30 day challenges” that can be used for making this type of coping skill a habit too. I just did a Google search and came up with this site, this Pinterest board, this list, and this blog. If you are struggling with your own happiness give gratitude a try. Every time I thank someone for something it makes me feel more deserving, even if they are “just doing their job”. I’ve found that my gratitude for others has also created a desire in me to do things for others, which is also a huge self-confidence booster. Helping others is still something I’m working on, I do really great at little things, and helping people I know. My husband is an amazing inspiration for helping others. He automatically does things like holding open doors, helping an old man carry his McDonald’s tray to a table, lifting a kid up so they can reach something. It really is the little things that matter the most.