No stranger to the woes of anxiety and depression, I have developed quite a few habits in an attempt to either prevent or at the very least lessen the symptoms. I have breathing techniques to do every time I see a particular sticker that I have placed throughout my life; in wallet, on the dashboard of my car, on my phone case. There’s a journal hidden in my house that is overflowing with topics that frustrate me, that I have written out before actually talking about them with anyone else. This activity helps me to discern if the thing I’m upset about is worth bringing up, or just my mind inflating something silly. I use a diffuser with lavender oil every night, to ward off insomnia- I’m not entirely sure the lavender is working, but it’s nice to at least pretend it might be.
Out of my many rituals, my most favorite is being actively thankful each and every day.
When I say thankful, I do not only mean thinking about being thankful. “Actively thankful” means writing it down or saying it out loud and living your thankfulness. Over the years my best friend Mae and I have leaned on each other, off and on, for accountability in staying thankful. We will text each other every day to proclaim our thanks and in turn offer some encouragement or kudos for that day’s choice. Mae and I attempted to rope another friend, Lynn, into our thankfulness club, but she just couldn’t grasp it. Her responses were always, “I guess I’m happy my kids are healthy,” or, “I suppose I’m glad my husband puts up with me.” Wait.. You guess? Thankfulness is conifident and certainly not a guess.
After a few days it seemed Lynn had run out of things to be thankful for, and just started recycling the few thanks she had already mentioned. We tried to encourage her to really dig deep, but she really never grasped the concept. It was heartbreaking the day that Mae and I realized that Lynn was really miserable in her life, although she has more wonderment around her than Mae and I combined. Lynn sadly is not capable of being actively thankful- at least not yet.
You see, being actively thankful requires a certain amount of open-mindedness. It causes you to think about the object of your thanks sincerely; to analyze why you are grateful for it. “I got that thing I wanted for Christmas, which is cool,” doesn’t fly when you’re actively thankful. Not that you can’t be thankful for your awesome present, but thankfulness in this way is deeper and more personal than the “thank you” you throw at the guy who gives you your coffee at Starbucks.
If you think about it, how often do you stop and truly “smell the roses” and reflect on how grateful you are that you don’t have some weird disease that makes you unable to smell their sensual aroma?
When was the last time you called one, or both, of your parents and thanked them for all of those times they grounded you because their strict parenting turned you into a decent human being? That might seem like an odd thing to be thankful for- being grounded all those years ago- but seriously, you turned out alright didn’t you? It worked! Mom and Dad deserve a shout out.
Have you ever thought back to college and remembered how hard it was sometimes, but thankful you did at least just enough to graduate? Or if you were an overachiever, you probably missed tons of great parties, but it was worth it wasn’t it?
What about simply just being happy you woke up today? This morning the sun shone through your bedroom window and while that was quite obnoxious of the sun to interrupt your perfectly peaceful slumber, your eyes fluttered open in response. Your heart is beating, can you feel it? Your lungs are filling with oxygen- take a deep breath- isn’t it wonderful?
But what makes being actively thankful scary to some, is that the troubles in our lives may come to the surface throughout the process of this introspective search. While considering life within you and around you, you may find yourself first thinking about what you don’t have instead of what you do. Honestly, this is inevitable and is exactly the point. This type of gratitude does NOT mean you don’t have any problems. On the contrary, it means that you do (because we all do) and despite it all, you can still find a reason to smile. I think this is why my friend Lynn was so afraid to do what Mae and I found to be so simple, and even fun. “What’s the point,” I remember her saying, “I’m only telling you guys anyway.” In a sense, by not allowing herself to appreciate how amazing life is at its core, she was warding off having even to brush past the issues life inevitably carries on the surface. Mae and I don’t share these thoughts because the other needs to hear them, but because we need to say them and to feel them.
The point my friends is how much better life seems to feel after a few days of consistently participating in this exercise. It is so easy to get lost in the worries of the day-to-day: Traffic sucks. Your boss is annoying. The house is a mess. You’re tired. You’re tired of being tired. But when you realize and start living the fact that life is so much deeper than the traffic, your job, the cleanliness of your home, or even how much caffeine you will require today- that is a life truly worth living.
As a patient of anxiety and depression, being thankful for something, anything really, helps me dig out of the very dark hole I can so easily find myself trapped within. When you’re depressed, it seems as if nothing is enough to get up for, even if that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Gaining the perspective of reality isn’t a perfect solution, but it sure does wonders.
I urge everyone, whether you suffer from mental health issues or not, to practice being actively thankful. Open your mind. See what’s in front of you. Be thankful for the big things, but also for the things that you don’t necessarily notice all of the time. Whether you’re posting your thanks on your Facebook wall for your friends and family to see, writing it in your blog for hundreds of followers, or communicating your thanks with a single friend who will keep you accountable, just make sure you do this. Even without depression, too many of us are allowing life to fly by, without stopping to smell the roses. Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing!
The world is amazingly more enjoyable when you’re actually enjoying it.