I had an entire year once of annoying events. It started on January 1st when a tree fell on our house in a terrible storm. Our kitchen floor became alarmingly spongy. The water heater broke. An airport van driver ran into my car door in the Safeway parking lot and drove off without even giving me her name.
Money shrank as the list of wrong and broken things grew. A strange string of other distressing people and events served to vex us throughout the year.
We invented a comforting mantra: Well, that was annoying but at least it wasn’t evil.
As a sort of bookend to that year in December, a speedy racer jumped the center divide and hit my husband and me in a head-on collision while I was driving. We were the only ones in the five car pile-up who didn’t have to leave the scene in an ambulance. We ended up with backaches and a rented car that smelled like cheese for a few weeks. It was annoying but not evil.
I felt deeply unlucky. My life had turned into a litany of woes, its own pile-up of annoying yet banal events that I had no control over.
My epiphany didn’t come for another month. It was five in the morning. I was checking my email on my work laptop while drinking a big cup of coffee. I knocked my cup somehow on the table and the coffee splashed all over the keyboard. The screen blurred, flashed, went black.
I sat in shock. I would have to explain to my administrator what happened and I would have to pay for the laptop. Even worse, I would have to explain to my husband what I’d done in a moment when a stupid mistake was the last thing we needed.
Shaking, I wiped up the spill. Then I went for a walk. With every step, I repeated my new mantra. I made it up on the spot. It went like this: I am so happy and grateful. Thank you.
I don’t know why I came to the conclusion that I should take a thank-you walk. I was tired of feeling bad. I was tired of bad things happening. Life was supposed to be nicer than ruined laptops and totaled cars, I knew it.
I am so happy and grateful thank you for my health, my happiness, my healing, my home. . . . I am so happy and grateful thank you for safe passage and smooth sailing on my wheels and on my feet. . . .I am so happy and grateful thank you that my workplace treats me fairly and kindly for the ruined laptop. . . .
I ended the walk feeling more in control, if not exactly hopeful. I went to work and grimly confessed that I’d destroyed a piece of work equipment through my own clumsiness. I hoped to be able to pay what I owed in installments, if that was possible.
The administrator laughed at me.
“We have insurance for that,” she said. “Calm down. It happens.”
A brand new computer was delivered to my desk in an hour.
Gratitude has become a cliché. But if I take a walk and with every step say a silent thanks for the things I forgot to notice (health, home, living through a head-on collision with no injury), I will feel better at the end. This is a stone cold fact.
I also tack on a few things that haven’t happened yet, but that I will be so grateful for when they do happen because also, maybe, magic.
Make a long list of things for which you are grateful. Yes, a gratitude journal. Did you really think this wasn’t going to appear eventually during this 31 Days of Advice project? Think of everything. Make a comprehensive list.
After the long list of things for which you are grateful, tack on ten or twenty things that you wish would come about, and feel grateful for them already. Write a list of those things as though they have already occurred in your life and you are truly, truly grateful for it. Because magic.
If it’s fun and not traumatic, think of a negative event in your recent memory (i.e. getting your Subaru smushed into a fiery accordion whilst you are driving it), and consider the story from a point of gratitude. It wasn’t until that first gratitude walk in February that I realized how crazy lucky it was that my husband and I weren’t seriously injured in the wreck that totaled our car. I’m not necessarily talking silver linings, or “everything happens for a reason”. I mean what is there to be grateful for in your particular situation?