practicing gratitude, finding light in life’s ups and downs

Two weeks ago, during my first week in Argentina, I was talking to a colleague on the phone about a challenging situation at work. The situation is sudden and has been a source of worry, stress and frustration for our entire team. Between my recent international move and this situation at work, I found myself in the middle of an immense season of uncertain change, both personally and professionally.

As I talked with my colleague, I could feel my frustration getting the best of me. In that moment, I realized I needed to take a step back. I needed to step away from my fears — the negative thoughts that would continue to pull me under if I gave them the chance — and focus on everything I have going for me. Because truth is, there’s a lot of good in my life; there’s much to be grateful for.

Practicing gratitude
That evening, as my colleague and I spoke, I opened my notebook and started writing down everything I’m truly grateful for. I wrote from my heart, thinking through the things that truly matter to me.

As I wrote one gratitude and then another, I could feel myself breathing easier, relaxing, loosening up. I could feel the weight of my worries dissipating. The light was pushing out the darkness. By focusing on the good, I was giving the negativity less room to breathe, take shape and grow.

Choosing to live in a beautiful state
In a recent interview with Marie Forleo, Tony Robbins says something quite poignant, something I wrote down and continue to reflect on. He speaks to this idea of focusing on the positive — living in a state of beautiful versus a state of suffering.

Tony says, “Thoughts are a vibration. They’ve been around forever … It’s like turning the channel on a TV. You turn one channel and what you’re going to bring down is invisible waves of a horror story. Turn another one, it’s a comedy. Another one, it’s a romance. So when you learn to trigger this and you realize your thoughts are not your thoughts, what I become humored by is a thought goes by that used to stress me out [and] I go, ‘Look at that little thought going by. Look at that little thing. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that fascinating? I’m not believing this. I know it’s bullshit. I know what matters is this, not all that other bullshit.’ I’m committed to living in a beautiful state for me and those that I love. And the more you do it, you build muscle and it becomes easier.”

Tony speaks to the practice of not giving life to our thoughts that stem from states of suffering — fear, frustration, anger, overwhelm, stress, worry, loneliness. By choosing to laugh at those thoughts as they pass by and not engage with them, we’re choosing to live in beautiful states — happiness, awe, love, passion, courage, drive. It’s quite powerful to hear Tony dissect this and then think about and practice it yourself.

I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but two weeks ago, as I wrote down my gratitudes, I was waving goodbye to the negative thoughts that were contributing to a state of suffering. I felt my conversation with my colleague take a turn for the positive. I became more optimistic. Our conversation became proactive; we focused on the things we can control and the ways in which we can support one another.

It’s amazing what a little awareness, reflection, contemplation and gratitude can do. That simple five- to ten-minute practice fed my soul that evening. It made me step back and say, “You know what, Emily? Everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to figure this out. It may take time, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”

Finding light in life’s ups and downs
When all is said and done, even on our darkest days, we all have something to be grateful for. And while it’s important to deal with the challenges in our lives — it’s not healthy to suppress them — I also think it’s important to focus on the positive elements, everything we have going for us, big and small.

If you look closely, I’m sure you can come up with at least three things you’re grateful for in your life today — whether you’re standing on your tallest mountain or in your deepest, darkest valley.

There’s only so much real estate in our minds. Focusing on the good can push out the negative. Who wants to house negative anyway? Positive is much more fun, much healthier, much more productive.

Writing my gratitudes also made me realize how proud I am of the things I’m grateful for. These things matter to me. I now know that when life knocks me down it’s important to come back to this foundation of gratitude; it fills my heart in ways I can’t describe and helps me refocus. On that evening two weeks ago, here’s what I jotted down.

I am grateful for …

  • my grandfather’s health — as well as that of my grandmother and my entire family
    • I’m praying for my sister and her health.
    • I’m thankful for my health, too, and the ability to live an active life.
  • the love and support of my family — that I often take for granted
  • the time I’ve been able to spend with my family this year, especially in late October and early November
  • my close friends — people who get me and that I know I can turn to for just about anything
  • LBK and the unconditional love of all my pets
  • Michigan, my beautiful home state
  • the fact that I’m in Buenos Aires, Argentina — being brave, working hard, putting my best foot forward, living my best adventure
  • my writing, my words, my reflection
  • the people, places and experiences that move, shake and inspire me
  • the little things that make me smile, even if just to myself

Pursuing a life of love, courage and joy
When times get tough, it’s difficult to remember everything we have going for us, everything that fills our lives with love and joy. There’s so much worth celebrating, so much to be thankful for — including the challenges. What fun would life be if it were easy? In many ways, the challenges make life worth living. They make the end product or the celebration that much sweeter. They make our stories worth telling.

For me, life might be more uncertain than normal right now. But the challenges and uncertainties I’m facing are something to be treasured in their own way. It’s tough to see their importance in the middle of the fight, but I trust they’re building me into the person I’m becoming. I think one day — a few weeks, a month or perhaps years from now — I’ll look back and see these walls were put in my path for a reason, and I hope I’m grateful for them for one reason or another. I believe they will yield something beautiful, something worth celebrating that I can’t quite foresee just yet.

I’m grateful for everything listed above. I’m also grateful for everything that makes me me, everything that makes this unique journey, that only I can live, so special. This is my life, my story. It’s never going to be perfect, and these challenges — along with the triumphs and joys — make this life worth living and this story worth telling.

November 24, 2016

3 thoughts on “practicing gratitude, finding light in life’s ups and downs

  1. Terri Lyn OBrien

    I think my favorite line from your blog today was this:

    the little things that make me smile, even if just to myself

    Keep smiling Emily, you’ve got this!


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