How Practicing Gratitude Changed My Life

People say a wakeup call can change one person’s life; something happens moving us so deeply to make a change a positive change in our lives, that there’s no turning back. It’s true…, but not always; or, to be more accurate, the wakeup call isn’t enough on its own to change for good.

I had a few wakeup calls in my life; but the one I had one on June of 2020, was the one that has taught me why a wakeup call, by itself, is not enough, and what we need to do to seize it, so that we can make a positive and lasting shift in our lives.

Fight or Flight

By June of 2020, COVID cases began to rise again in Argentina, thus we found ourselves back on square one. I was in a deep depression, sleeping throughout the whole day; it was so deep that I couldn’t reflect on a way to get out,… and I didn’t even care… That’s what depression does to a person…[1]

But then one day, a loved one reached the brink of death, and I simply got up, just like that. When I had to run to the hospital, the adrenaline fueled me like terminator. I was on full “fight response” mode[2], and going like, “Suck it up; shit; this is going to hurt; don’t fall again! Shit; this is going to hurt.”

And it did hurt, really bad… I was picturing the worst and getting ready to toughen up, but at the same time I was praying for miracle; I was torn between my faith and, … life.

After a few weeks, the miracle happened; or if you’d like put it in another way: great doctors did their best. But still… I could not believe there was a tomorrow for us, and I felt such gratitude that something starting to change within me.

The Power of Being Consciously Grateful

Once we were out of the woods, I was so relief and happy to tears that I began saying, every morning, a little prayer of gratitude. The feeling was so overwhelming, that I felt compelled to exteriorize it.

This is what I started doing:

  1. Wake up (duh)
  2. Sit down on my bed with my arms relaxed and my hands facing the ceiling
  3. Tell the cats, “Wait; the food is coming; mommy needs to be grateful”
  4. Close my eyes, think about how grateful I am and I say it out loud, “feeling it”, truly embracing the feeling; 
  5. Repeat to the cats, “just a minute; mommy needs to feel the gratitude”

However, bad thoughts always meddle in; it’s human nature (hyper or not) and it’s called negative bias.[3] Therefore, during that minute or so, when those thoughts try to take over my gratitude, I think, “No; I won’t think that; I am grateful.”

Being able to do that, to really fight back the negative thoughts, was a huge deal for me; because up until that point I used to just blow them away and leave them haunting me in the background.

What Is Like To Be Truly Grateful

I used to think I was a grateful person. I had always been very reflective; in fact, it is what helped to cope with the traumas I’ve experienced: to hold on to the good things in my life, to be thankful for having survived, for having had the strength to get back on my feet, for simply haven’t given up.

However, I was also that kind of person that was like sitting in my patio, waiting for a hummingbird with my camera, thinking, “Gorgeous day…; Thank God; it’s all good… Thank you, God… Holly shit; I shouldn’t say it out loud; something is going to happen.

But now, I was not afraid to fully embrace my present joy unconditionally. I felt as if I had entered a state of unbreakable balance; a state where if there’s an earthquake in my soul, I’ll remain on my feet; and if I fall, I’ll get back up because this state has power ups, like outlets I can plug in myself to so I can stand up and continue enjoying my present as the gift that it is. 

A Wake-Up Call, By Itself, It’s Not Enough

Anyone could say, “You had a wakeup call! It changes you!” But this wasn’t my first one; so, why was it different? Why did it work?

When I overdosed in my twenties for instance, and I quit doing cocaine cold turkey, I had that feeling of gratitude for … maybe a month; it just doesn’t last… Not unless we do something to make it last. I didn’t come back to drugs, but eventually I started drinking a lot and I made a lot of wrong choices.

Did having an undiagnosed ADHD had something to do with it? Of course. But I believe what I’m sharing applies to everyone, neurodivergent or not.

Full disclosure, saying my prayer every morning and being able to not fear “when the other shoe is going to drop”, it made such a huge impact in my life that I was not only proud of my spiritual growth, but I was also thinking I had discovered a soul lightbulb or something.🤦🏻‍♀️

However, as I found out later, this wakeup call worked because I made the feeling of gratitude last; and it is actually “a thing” which has a very interesting scientific based explanation.

Hail Brené!

Over the following months, I continued being very aware of this growth I was experiencing, watching movies and talks that could help me get further. One day I recalled a Netflix special, “The Call to Courage,” by Brené Brown; I had watched it a long time ago and I remembered it had helped at the time.

Brené Brown spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. She wrote five number one New York Times Best Sellers and her TED Talk – one of the most watched worldwide – is how I discovered this fabulous woman. [4]

And there I was, getting all empowered by this woman and laughing hysterically at her stories, when she said, 

“Joy is the most vulnerable of all human emotions. We are terrified to feel joy. We are so afraid that if we let ourselves feel joy, something will come along and rip it away from us, and we will get sucker punched by pain, and trauma and loss. So that in the midst of great things, we literally dress rehearse tragedy.”

Brown B. 2019

And I thought, “That is me! That was me?”

And she continued,

“The research participants who had the ability to lean fully into joy only shared one variable in common. (…) They didn’t practice the terrible things. They just leaned in. What do you think that one thing they share is? Gratitude. They practice gratitude.”

Brown B. 2019

I’m gonna close with one last quote (and I will come back to Brené at some point); she added,

Vulnerability has a real physiology. It has a real tremor. Something inside of us, when we feel vulnerable, our body is like, “Whew.” Some people use that as a warning to start dress-rehearsing for bad things. Some of us try to use it as a reminder to be grateful.”

Brown B. 2019

And I was like, “Ha! That’s what I’m doing!”

Bottom Line Is…

I thought I was grateful and, I was; but I was not “practicing gratitude.” Thus, before my last wakeup call, I hadn’t been able to fight back the bad thoughts for real. I was like enjoying the sun and checking the weather on my phone for the next storm.

Now I feel that if, and/or when the other shoe drops, I’ll say “fuck” (duh, because shit happens!); I’ll put a quarter in the jar and the next morning I’ll say my little prayer again, and I will remain in that state of gratitude, fully leaning into joy as René says; because I changed, and because I choose to remain grateful every single day. 

Needless to say, we don’t need a wakeup call to start practicing gratitude… We only need the will to do so; simply the will to live a nice life.

About Laly York

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