It's Called Gratitude

Aaaah! Work has been chapping my ass lately! I’ve been on the road a lot, busting my hump ten or twelve hours a day, and taking responsibility for a lot of big projects. I’m not averse to hard work, and I like my job a lot ... but there is also this situation where my compensation is not quite keeping up with the level of travel and responsibility and pain-in-the-neck-ness. (Literally … it gives me a pain in the neck.)

So … yeah … when I’m on hour five of my drive home from the client site, or hour eleven of thinking and talking about nothing but work, or day four of not having more than an hour or two to myself per day, it’s been really easy for me to slip into feeling anxious and unappreciated and all kinds of gnarly stuff I have no interest in feeling. It’s been hard to keep my attitude in check.

And it’s tricky … because this isn’t the kind of situation that I can just let go of. To let go of it entirely means that I will be allowing myself to be taken advantage of, and we can't have that. But I can’t constantly be bummed out about it either, because that is just a raggedy way to live.

I do have faith that I’ll be able to work the work situation out soon -- either that or I’ll find another job -- but in the meantime, I’ve been struggling with how to stay happy right now. How to stay out of that raggedy, put-upon place. How to be patient, but not too patient, and also enjoy myself in the moment. And what I’ve come up with is this: consciously making the decision to be grateful.

Because here’s the thing -- a year ago I was way more in debt than I am now, living in a house I didn’t want to live in and having no idea how I was going to get out of it. Two years ago I was riding four busses a day to go and make like twelve bucks an hour. Three years ago I had no income at all. Four years ago I had just lost my fancy job. Five years ago I was downsizing my fancy apartment because I had a feeling I was about to lose my fancy job. Six years ago I was making a lot of money but spending every last dime of it. Seven years ago I had just been dumped and was spending a lot of time in sweatpants watching cable with my BFFs Ben & Jerry.

You see where I’m going with this? Regardless of the BS I’m dealing with today, when I step back and look at the big picture I can see that many things in my life are wonderful, and have actually gotten appreciably better over time. This job has been part of that. And when I consciously focus on this fact, well, it makes my chapped-ass feelings go away like nothing else.

Human beings tend to focus on what’s messed up. Our minds seem to want to continually repeat the loop of things that are pissing us off, while at the same time, the wonderful things in our lives become as familiar as furniture, and we stop paying attention to them.

This is such A Thing that there’s even a word for it -- hedonic adaptation. And it makes sense that we’d be this way, if you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint. Our ancestors wouldn’t have gotten very far if they were so caught up in enjoying the sunshine that they didn’t notice the lion coming to eat them.

But hedonic adaptation can also turn us into bitchy ingrates. It can make our hearts pound in outrage over what are, in the grand scheme of things, very minor slights. It can make us spend all of our money and then some on fancy things that will only really provide a few minutes of happiness. It can make us place our attention on entirely the wrong things, and blunt us to the enormously positive forces that are working in our favor every single day of our lives.

The good news is that hedonic adaptation can be conquered, and even used to our benefit, but only when we develop the ability to keep being grateful for all the great shit we’ve got going on. How do we do this? The same way we tackle any other sort of insanity going on in our brains -- we notice it, we shut it down, and we replace it with something else.

Like … sure, work is chapping my ass right now. But it also gives me a workable paycheck twice a month, and it’s sent me to fun places like Italy and Brazil, and it’s right next to a beautiful stretch of river, which I like to gaze upon when my tea is brewing. Most important, I have friends there, wonderful friends who know who I really am and still (generally) like me.

So, while I wait for the right time to fix the things that aren’t working, I’m trying to focus on these good things. Trying to stay in the moment rather than being crushed by the enormity of my responsibilities and all the things I have to do in the next few months and all the uncertainty about everything else. And so far it’s working pretty well. The prospect of having a four-day weekend this week is helping a lot, too … and mashed potatoes ... and pumpkin pie … mmm …

At any rate, taking a moment to consciously be grateful for all the great things I’ve got going on beats the hell out of the alternative, which is muttering to myself like a crazy person about how unfair things are.

How about you? Have you got a lot to be thankful for? Have you noticed, like me, how much better your life is when you make an effort to be appreciative for good things instead of or at least in balance with being pissed off about bad ones?

Tell me what you think in the comments, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. <3