Staying Sane by Staying Thankful
I’m staying home right now with Gwyn (age 2) and Max (age 1). Some days we have so much fun reading books and hanging out with friends and playing with trains, and it’s all smiles and rainbows. Other days include tantrums and tears- and that’s not even the children.
The problem isn’t with them: they’re wonderful and funny and adorable and squishy (and also fussy, rebellious, and in need of constant care). The problem is with me, and my perspective. On bad days, it’s easy for me to get bored, frustrated and whiny, and start thinking things like:
Joseph is SOOO lucky. He gets to drive to work ALONE and go to the bathroom ALONE, and only has to be responsible for feeding HIMSELF lunch! My life is SOOO hard, it’s not fair and I’m just. So. Tired!!
Now might be a good time to mention I am a babied youngest child who was raised in an upper-middle-class family in suburbia. Clearly, I know very little about real hardship.
The truth is, my life is pretty amazing; yet more often than I care to admit, I let my crazy (or just straight-up sin) stop me from enjoying it. And most of the time it boils down to a lack of gratitude for what God has given me and where he has me right now.
I started reading the book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart because I wanted to learn how to be a better writer. What I ended up learning was way more valuable. I was struck by the beautiful way she talks about writing and its power:
"No memoir is worth reading if it is not leavened with beauty and love. And no memoirist should start her work until she can, with authority, write about things she loves. So think about it. Put yourself in the half-place between dream and story, and hover. Think about how the world leaks and scrambles out toward possibilities and how between divisions, under stones, in the eyes of a child, in the spark of first sun on a river reflecting blue, passions get their running start - or should. Think about the smallest things that make you happy - Kooser’s apples maybe, or the backyard oak, or a full moon rising on a high tide, or your mother, after all, or the man you’re actually glad you married, or the child you thought you’d never have, or the neighbor you so purposely ignored until his pear-tree bloomed such a snow-fantastic white. Sit in a chair and conjure beauty and goodness, the stepping-stones of love. Make a list. Tangle it up with metaphor. Practice gratitude.” (59-60)
I read this passage and realized that this is what I need to do to shake myself out of my self-pitying funk and see my ordinary with fresh eyes.
So, I started doing this thing that has really been helpful, and I thought I would share it here in case anyone else out there is looking for help in this area:
Write the moments.
I started keeping a gratitude journal again (I am a 29 year-old Christian female after all, Ann Voskamp has prompted me to do this sort of thing on more than one occasion), only this time I made one small change that has made a big difference: Instead of writing a list of things I’m grateful for, I’ve been writing little descriptions of my favorite moments from the day.
I heard someone say one time that the happiest people are the people who retell their joyful stories often. The more we relive what makes our lives beautiful, the easier it is to train our eyes to look for that beauty in the moment.
For me, part of the fun is using all the flowery words and painting the picture as vividly as I can. I love throwing in adorable direct quotes and describing just how good that ice cream was. It’s part of it, and who cares if the actual writing is terrible! No one else reads the stuff. The relishing is the point.
Harness your inner teenager - in a good way
I kept a journal all through middle-school and high-school. There’s a shelf in the closet of my old bedroom at my parents house that is covered in composition notebooks full of thrilling details about my scraggly bangs and why Jill and Jessie aren’t speaking.
There’s something incredibly relaxing and fun about getting in my bed at the end of the day with a journal and pen and writing about what’s happening in my life right now. It helps me to fall asleep with a sense of closure and end the day thinking about what actually went well instead of all the other things.
This journal is one I’d actually want my grandchildren to read.
Most of my other notebooks are dumping grounds for my crazy: pages of muddled, sometimes-repetitive, often-irrational thoughts written during a trial. Not really the tokens I want my offspring to remember me by.
One fun side benefit to this approach to gratitude journaling is that at the end, you’re left with a delightful collection of little snapshots of what things were like back in 2016.