Editorial: The gratitude list

Lisa Yates, Editor

Once when addressing my editorial staff, I told them about a habit I developed with my best friend Jami Jones-Hemund. Every morning we got to work early and composed an email to each other - our gratitude list. It was a bullet list of “complaints” or “gripes,” but instead of focusing on the negative, we focused on the hidden “benefit” or “blessing” found in each of these situations, making it a positive.

For example, I would write something like this:

•I am so very grateful my tire had a flat when I was leaving an interview this afternoon. I am grateful it didn't happen on the Interstate in the rain, but instead in a nice, safe parking lot.

•I am so very grateful I humbled myself to ask for help changing the tire. I don't like to ask for help, so this was good for me.

•I am so very grateful the gentleman I asked for help suggested I call AAA Roadside Assistance. I don't have that, but it turns out, my car insurance covers emergency roadside service. A guy came out, albeit an hour later, and changed my tire at no charge.

•I am so very grateful that the woman I said “hello” to last night didn't acknowledge me. It's a reminder that kindness and courtesy do matter. So no matter how miserable I may be feeling, I will try to be courteous to others. I don't want to become a miserable old grouch like that horrible woman. Poor thing!

These are just a few examples. Some of the negative situations I faced in my life were a bit more serious. Nevertheless, I expressed my gratitude for the situation saying I knew there was a “blessing” hidden in there somewhere even though I wasn't strong enough to find it yet.

After doing this for more than two years, I can tell you it's made a huge difference in my life. Gradually, I'm finding I have fewer things to complain about and a lot more to be grateful for receiving.

Instead of complaining about things, I choose to focus on the positive. 

My apologies to the nihilists out there, but I believe in a “true morality” and I believe that secular ethics are possible within our society. It starts with an “attitude of gratitude.”

It's not always easy to focus on gratitude. Life is full of surprises, not all of them are good. But I definitely don't want to be that person who brightens up a room by leaving it.

When I was about 6- or 7-years-old, I remember crying to my grandmother, complaining about my early bedtime.

Growing up my brother and I had to be bathed, dressed in our pajamas and in our beds by 8 p.m. every night - even during summer vacations from school. 

In the summer months it's still daylight at 8 p.m., so I wasn't happy about the situation. I told my grandmother I could see the other children outside my window playing and having fun. I remember feeling very sorry for myself.

My grandmother spoke to me very kindly; however, she had no pity for me. She said when she was a young woman she worked at a children's hospital. She told me that she met children there born without legs - and some without arms. She said these children couldn't play and do things the same way I could. 

In other words, she told me not to feel sorry for myself. Even at a very young age I got the message - some people have it a lot worse off than I do. So quit complaining when life is good.

Sometimes when I hear people complaining about petty things, I think about what my grandmother told me. I also think about people like John Walsh.

Walsh is the host of “America's Most Wanted,” the show that has helped put some of our country's worst criminals behind bars. In 1981, Walsh's six-year-old son, Adam, was abducted and later found murdered. Walsh has since dedicated his life to victims' rights and capturing fugitive criminals.

He found a positive outlet for his grief instead of turning vigilante. As a result, he has helped many families find their missing children.

One of my favorite books is You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, by Peter McWilliams.

Its subtitle is: A Book for People with Any Life-Threatening Illness - Including Life

In the book, McWilliams says we tend to forget the good and remember the bad. He suggests buying a special notebook and spending 10 minutes a day remembering and writing down the good things that happen each day. He said this helps to reduce stress and to retrain the brain to focus on the positive.

Also, when folks feel low, he said, they can re-read through their notebooks to lift their spirits.

I have something like this I call a “Smile File.” Whenever I get a nice note or email from someone, I place it in the file. I've done this for years. It's fun to go back and look at some of the cards and letters I've received. It's nice to know that something I said or did made a positive impact on someone's life. That makes me happy.

The idea for the gratitude list came from my friend Jami. She read about it in a book by Melody Beattie called Make Miracles in 40 Days.

I haven't read the book, but I know the gratitude list is helping me to conquer the negative-thinking habit. Try it for yourself and let me know what happens.

Lisa Yates is the editor at Gonzales Weekly Citizen. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa_editor.