The Antidote to Discontent

There’s something about the month of February that brings out the grumbling in all of us.  Maybe it is the fact that it is several months into the cold, dark season of winter, especially for those of you still buried under a couple feet of snow.  Last week, the groundhog confirmed we’ve got another six weeks of winter ahead of us (why do we keep consulting that groundhog anyway, he’s not even a trained meteorologist?) and I know many of you are ready to pack up the snow boots and break out your gardening gear.  (I hear you.  Last night while I was hibernating I had a dream that it was going to be 80 degrees all week long here in St. Louis and actually started to get dressed in a tank top before I realized it was still winter.  Talk about disappointing).  Or maybe our complaining has something to do with the fact that we’re a month into a new year, just long enough to have completely abandoned our sparkly New Year’s resolutions, yet not so long as to have forgotten we ever set them in the first place.  Or maybe it is because we’re smack in the middle of cold and flu season and we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I feel fairly certain that if Facebook were to run a quick analytic search it would confirm the fact that our status updates contain the most complaints this month compared to any other month of the year.  February seems to be the month of discontent.

I want to be really clear about something.  I don’t think complaining is an inherently bad thing.  There is catharsis in complaining, especially in the safety of authentic relationships.  Sometimes we complain because we are seeking solutions, and sometimes we simply need to be heard and have someone else say, “yes, I hear you, me too.”  I think being honest about our disappointments or challenges can draw us closer to the ones we love and actually play a positive role in creating community.  I don’t live in a highlight reel, and my guess is that neither does anyone reading this, so I am often relieved, inspired or just simply touched when others open up and share their struggles alongside their victories.  In fact, I read recently that one of the greatest gifts we bring to others is our authenticity, and I believe that is true. 

However, I also believe that living in a state discontent blocks our ability to live authentically, because to live an authentic life requires us to recognize and develop our own unique gifts.  It’s hard to do that when we are focused on the things we lack, or are caught in a trap of comparison.  Until we are willing to take inventory of the gifts we already hold in our hands and the beauty that already exists in our current reality, we will be blocked by discontent.  So, at least for me, it follows that the antidote to discontent is gratitude.

We hear a lot about gratitude practices in November, and to be fair, it’s an easier time of year to focus on our abundance.  We’re gearing up for the holidays and we haven’t been confronted by the real bite of winter yet, with its below zero temperatures and new strains of vaccine-resistant influenza.  It seems strange to talk about gratitude in February, yet this might just be the month we need to put this practice in place the most.  If you don’t already have a gratitude practice in place in your home or life, I want to encourage you to join me in one of the following practices for the next thirty days.  Look, many of us have already abandoned those New Year’s Resolutions, so we’ve got plenty of time on our hands to try something new, right?  Practicing gratitude for thirty days will carry us right into the middle of March when the forsythia blooms and we can begin to hope for Spring in earnest.  Besides, they say it takes thirty days to start a habit, and this is a habit that has the power to radically change your life.  What do you have to lose?

Here’s a few ideas to get you started, some that I’ve used over the years and some that are new to me (and most copied straight off Pinterest):

1.  Gratitude Journals:  The old standard.  You can purchase a journal, or make one like the example below, or just use any notebook from around your house.  Leave it on your nightstand and make a habit of writing in it before bed.  

2.  Gratitude Jar:  This is a great way to include your entire family in your gratitude practice.  Leave your jar and a few strips of paper on the kitchen table or somewhere your family tends to gather and encourage everyone to include an offering of daily thanks into the jar.

3.  Gratitude List:  I love this ring-bound, portable gratitude list to keep year round.  
4.  Gratitude App:  For the more tech-savvy, I adore this gratitude app.  I’ve used it on and off for a few years now and love that it is always at my fingertips.  You can also upload a photo from the day to include in your gratitude journal.  
5.  Gratitude Photography:  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so if writing is not your thing, consider an Instagram gratitude challenge.  For the next thirty days, take at least one picture of something you felt grateful for each day and share it with a hashtag like #30daysofgratitude. 

6.  Gratitude Simplified:  If all of the above suggestions feel too complicated or crafty or contrived, then keep it simple.  I love this bulletin board tacked with scrap pieces of paper expressing gratitude for co-workers.  This could easily be modified for your home.  Don’t have a bulletin board?  Try Post-It notes on the refrigerator or a closet door.  Or, don’t record anything at all.  Just simply set aside a time and space in your day to mentally review the moments that were life-affirming.  It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect.  It just has to be.

While I can’t promise that I won’t complain for the next thirty days, I will make a commitment to balance complaints with a renewed, dedicated gratitude practice.  Will you join me?  I would love to hear how you plan to incorporate a practice of gratitude in your life, or what you are already doing to give thanks on a daily basis. 

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