Mindfulness: Appreciating each day for what it is (even if it sucked)

Hello from London! I am currently sitting in Gatwick airport, waiting for time to fly as I occupy myself through a 12 hour layover. Despite leaving Babe after two months of what I can only call pure bliss, I can’t honestly say I’m heartbroken to go. I learned a lot about myself, my boyfriend, our relationship and the world around us in the last 8 weeks and i feel that I have grown as a person, one who has learned to seize each day. So today, I am grateful for painless travels (thus far), the adorable Austrian lady who sat with me to pass the time, and the small coffee shop that has let me curl up in this cozy armchair for the first quarter of my layover without noticing or perhaps caring that my drink is empty.

One thing I love about my boyfriend is that he is constantly trying to improve himself and create the best life possible not only for him, but for those he loves, too. He is constantly listening to podcasts about growth, finance, mental strength, goal setting, etc., which led to him teaching me about this grounding activity that he learned somewhere along the way. As a psychiatric nurse, I use and teach a lot of mindfulness activities to my patients and clients, but I always love to learn new ways to encourage a positive attitude and remain hopeful and happy. So Babe and I began trying this activity every night, and I must say, it taught me a lot. 

As often as possible at the end of each day, we sat down to write 3 things we were grateful for, 3 things that made the day great, 2 mantras or positive statements about ourselves, and maybe 2 things we wish would have gone better that day. It might look something like this:

3 things I’m grateful for:

A relationship that is able to endure long distance, airline staff who are forgiving of overweight luggage, friendly strangers 

3 things that made today great:

Hearing how excited my mom sounded on the phone about me coming home, getting a great snuggle sesh in with Babe before going to the airport, finding butter for Babe at the cornerstone after the apparent outage at our regular supermarket (lol)

I work hard to deserve the opportunities I am given. I nourish the healthy relationships in my life. 

Things that could’ve been better today:

If I didn’t have to say goodbye to Babe (obviously), if this coffee shop was warmer!!!

I didn’t hear the podcast that explained the purpose of each section, but here is what I have learned from trying to reflect daily…

Searching for new things to be grateful for everyday can be challenging, but it gives you an opportunity to count endless blessings, and especially to realize that there are always good things in the world to acknowledge. I think back to the day my grandpa died, which was one of the toughest days of my life. Even in the darkest corners of my sorrow, I was grateful for the attempts to comfort or distract me made by a few friends and my boyfriend, and I was grateful I got to know my grandpa for almost a quarter of a century, which not all people get to do with their own grandparents. Besides all this, I was so grateful we were given four hard months to unknowingly prepare and say goodbye. I consider myself lucky that this is the deepest heartache I have had to endure, and I understand others may be in much worse situations. But at the end of the day, we can always be grateful for another day on earth, which if you look hard enough, will show you something beautiful.

As you can see in my example, finding something great about the day doesn’t have to be huge (it can even be smaller than a brick of butter!). What’s important is finding unique parts in the day that may have put a smile on your face. Again, I think back to the time of my grandfather passing. After he died, I experienced a short period of what felt like depression. Even my favourite person (and pup) struggled to extract emotion out of me because I felt so dull and empty, but having Babe hold me or occasionally hearing my dog’s gentle yips as he dreamed doggy dreams were things that always made the day better, if not great. There will be days when you can write a book full of great things (ever been to Disneyland?), but there will also be days that feel so hard to endure, and finding something great about them may feel impossible. The key is to find the ‘silver lining’. It can be the random but warm smile of a passing stranger, or a hot cup of coffee. It can even be getting home before the rain hits. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, because the truth is that not everyday is incredible. But everyday is what you make it, and if you focus on the small victories rather than the shortcomings, the bad days will turn into alright days and then maybe even good days. Eventually, your threshold for endurance of tough times will increase and you will be able to nurture your mental wellness with a little bit more strength.

What I always found hardest about this exercise was writing down positive things about myself. For a long time, whenever I talked about myself or my accomplishments, I feared that it might come across to others as bragging or being egocentric. After about a million self-reflecting exercises throughout my degree, where my professors required us to answer many challenging, thought-provoking and sometimes intrusive questions, I discovered the pretty clear boundary between bragging and simply being self-confident. If you are sharing information unrelated to the conversation, with the purpose of gaining admiration or jealousy or knowingly making someone else feel inferior, there is a very very good chance it’s bragging. But if you’re sharing your accomplishments when it fits in conversation, when someone asks, “what’s new with you?”, or when your experience will benefit the quality of the conversation, consider it a green light! One thing to keep in mind about bragging is that it’s not useful even when reflecting to yourself. Bragging is often peppered with exaggeration and confabulation, meaning it is unhelpful in trying to find your authentic self. Even if the positive statements you make about yourself aren’t ground shattering, they are meant to bring attention to strengths, things to be proud of, and real life truths that will help you stay positive during hard times. Pointing out things that aren’t fully true, whether you admit it to others/yourself or not, won’t give you the same good feelings than if you search for honest qualities.

For me, I find it necessary to bring attention to how hard I work as a way to avoid feeling guilty for the amazing opportunities I am granted. I feel so lucky to travel and do neat things, but I also know that my fortune is not all luck- I make sacrifices and push myself to the limit sometimes so that I can benefit from it later. Reminding myself of that helps me to continue to work hard, while fully appreciating what I have earned. I also took time to acknowledge the healthy behaviour of surrounding myself with supportive people, because although sometimes it can feel hard when you lose touch with friends, get few likes on your latest Instagram pic, or not be on top of the latest parties or events, there are so many good reasons for keeping a small circle including increased trust, support and authenticity in your relationships. It also removes the feeling of wearing yourself thin by trying to keep up with so many people at once. I will say it again… Admitting reality helps to keep us grounded.

I think it is easy for many people to create a list of “could haves” and “would haves” and things they wish would have gone better on any given day. That’s why you get two. You set a limit on negative thoughts, and you can choose to focus on little or big things, things beyond your control or your own decisions. I found on good days, it was challenging to find things to improve on, and I actually felt a little bit guilty for trying to seek them out. On bad days though, it sometimes took me several minutes to sift through the bad stuff to find the two parts I wanted to write down and acknowledge. On these days, I found it helpful to write down at least one thing beyond my control, so that I could bring light to my frustration and as a reminder that I was not able to have a say in the matter (like higher temperature in the coffee shop). For #2,  I might write something that upset me (like leaving Babe), or even something as simple as Starbucks running out of matcha for my green tea latte as Babe and I commuted home in the rain after our trip to Barcelona. Looking back even ten minutes after writing it down made my problems seem smaller, and at times more manageable. When stressors in life are bottled up or swallowed down rather than brought into light, anxiety can begin to brew in even the most resilient of people. As Babe and I continued journal writing, we eventually stopped including the things that could have gone better, because we both found it more beneficial to focus on what went well.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that this daily reflection was having a positive impact on my overall mood and outlook on situations. One weekend, I left Babe to visit two friends in the Netherlands. Closer to the date of my trip, I started to experience some anxiety about going, wondering why I was leaving Babe knowing that I’m a bit of a homebody and would have been just as happy staying in while Babe was on the road. I decided to continue reflecting while I was away and documented the exercise on my phone before going to bed. The exercise reminded me of how lucky I am to see Canadian friends abroad and that I am independent and adventurous. This journaling exercise has proved to be a security blanket of sorts, as it helps me reinforce my decisions and recognize all of the positives in my life.

I think that there are two different types of attitudes that can be easy to fall into during tough times. The first is a “woe is me” attitude, when someone is constantly feeling negative towards themselves, perhaps thinking they’re “cursed” or have bad luck or are unlucky. This is an unhealthy attitude to have, because even the good things can be overlooked, because the person will be thinking it’s a fluke, or that it is still not as good as what others have, or will wish it could be even better. The other type of attitude is when a person belittles their own successes or hardships, because there are others out there who will always suffer or have it worse. Although this kind of attitude might come from a place of empathy, it can be just as unhealthy because it disables the person from experiencing joy as well as pain. Humans are emotional beings, and to try to stifle all highs and lows would be unnatural and confining. This grounding exercise requires both types of people to step beyond the regular characteristics of the attitude they might have and to focus on reality.

I have really admired my own attitude since adding this exercise to my daily, sometimes only weekly routine. I hope that if you give it a try, that you will attempt it daily for at least two weeks, so that you have the chance to use it throughout different situations and experiences than perhaps a repetitive Monday to Friday nine to five week, or a great weekend with friends when it is easy to fill up the good stuff. Give the exercise a chance to work through some of the ups and downs of your life to see what kind of insight and encourag mention it might offer!

Xx

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