Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gratitude the Hard Way

I was searching online a while back for a purveyor of *good* news, instead of the death, destruction, greed and inanity offered by many media outlets. I came upon the 21-day Gratitude Challenge, and signed up for their daily emails figuring I might get something in my "Promotions" inbox that was better for my soul than eBay and airline ads. I didn't expect to really pay too much attention, and I was right. However, one of the days' questions really stuck with me; it was something along  the lines of "what are you grateful for in things that annoy, frustrate or challenge you?" (Going back to the actual email, I find the question really was "what inconvenience are you grateful for?" Interesting how my mind morphed it.).

I waste a lot of energy aggravating myself over things that frustrate me, whether it's the jackhat in traffic who speeds up to cut me off at the last possible second before hir lane goes away when they've had 2 miles of notice that it's going to happen, or ooh, better yet, the Very Bad Driver who turns right from the *left* lane directly in front of me while I'm on my bicycle going straight (hate that intersection of West Virginia and New York on the way home!!). Or getting an email at work whining about an uninformed and parochial problem with no hint of any suggestions on how to fix it. Or the kitties (heck, who am I kidding -- I know it's only one kitty, and his name is Harry) gnawing through not one, but two sets of earbuds, and not realizing until I'm headed out the door to work on my bicycle, and have to ride both ways without my usual NPR fix. Or having to pour an almost entire half-gallon of milk down the drain because it has gone sour, because even though I know well and good that I can hardly ever finish a half-gallon of milk before it goes bad, the grocery stores I frequent don't carry quarts of milk, so I'm stuck wasting a lot, or going without. Hmph.

And then there's the bigger stuff that I find frustrating. Like our current federal budget situation (come *on!* politicians -- figure this stuff *out!!* Compromise is not a dirty word) and how that affects the daily grind of my job. Like being single again (very sadly, things didn't work out with the Rocket Scientist; distance, communications styles, emotional needs...I'm not entirely sure which hurdle finally took us out). Like feeling sorry for myself for *anything* when I know there are people very much worse off than I am, like my sister's friend who is herself disabled and unable to work, has a severely autistic child, and whose husband was just diagnosed with brain cancer -- goodness, what personal problems was I hacking on about? Why, oh why do bad things happen to good people?!?

So this particular question in the Gratitude Challenge definitely hits home with me. I want to be more positive and grateful about the big stuff and the little stuff; and I want to do this so I can be happier, and I can have a less negative impact on the people around me. This gets a little woo-woo here, but I believe that the universe reflects back at me what I put out there. So I'd rather send out happy, positive energy instead of negativity, anger, and frustration, both for myself, but also for the good of all of us.

In a happy coincidence, I started reading two books within the last couple of days. One is Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctica Expedition, by Dennis Perkins (yay for Books 24X7!) and The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin (yay for eBooks at my library!).

In the Shackleton book, there's a great section on cultivating optimism. Perkins talks about psychologist Martin Seligman who pioneered learned optimism, which is simplified into five concepts and related actions:
A - Adversity: Identify the adversity you have encountered (ex., some jackhole almost hit me on my bicycle commute)
B - Beliefs: Note your thoughts and beliefs about the event - that is, your interpretation (ex., s/he doesn't care about me)
C - Consequences: Recognize the consequences of your belief (ex., I feel insignificant, unimportant and disregarded)
D - Dispute: Dispute the negative belief with a sound argument based on evidence (ex., I have friends and family who care about me, and would be really upset if I got hit by a car)
E - Energy: Generate the energy and feelings needed to overcome the adversity (ex., I don't want to expose myself to the risk of being hit any more than I have to, so I will continue to pay close attention to the road and traffic around me, making myself better able to respond if someone else is not paying such close attention)

That might not be exactly what Perkins and Seligman meant, but hey, if it gets me through DC traffic without losing my mind (or getting arrested for shouting profanities in public), that's good enough for me!

As for the big stuff, I am grateful for my job, even as I bitch and whine about it. It's not just about the people I work with, who are the best of the best. I have been in more than a few meetings with a preponderance of Admirals, where I am the most junior member. And they listen to what I have to say. I am making myself a better leader by learning about the really big picture stuff that drives our organization, so that I can go back to the fleet and help make sense of it out there. I am (hopefully) influencing things in a positive, forward looking manner by the sole means of promoting questions that no one has wanted to face asking before. So, yes, all the frustration and head-desk feelings that happen frequently enough to be discouraging are worth it. And I'm grateful to have this blog/forum with which to remind myself that the fight is totally worthwhile and must go on.

I am grateful to have the personal space to realize that I really like spending time with my friends and family -- and that they love me enough back to have such amazing patience with me for taking so long to figure that out :) I'm also grateful for the personal space to figure out what makes me happy, without the influence of someone else's enthusiasm to sway me. You'd think by 40 I'd have figured that out, but it's still a work in progress, I guess probably because I have changed over the years, and continue to change.

But all this chatter about being happy in the face of adversity makes me wonder, at what point does trying to be positive about something, finding the good in a bad situation, drive me to neglect trying to change whatever the bad situation is? I mean, it's one thing if I can find a way to be more sanguine about annoying drivers, but what about when I do need to take positive action, but I'm too busy trying to be up-beat about whatever it is that I run out of energy to actually *do* something? Is it okay to talk myself into being positive about being in a bad place, instead of trying to do something to get out of that bad place? There has to be a middle road there.

One last note of gratitude the hard way -- I am grateful for being sick today and having to cancel on a 8k race, brunch with fellow military ladies and a later brunch with farm folks, all of which would have been so much fun. But because I had to cancel, I got this post written, and have two *huge!* pots of turkey soup bubbling on the stove. And best of all, I feel absolutely NO guilt for the nap on my couch that I'm about to take!

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