Have you ever met someone who was able to overcome disappointment with an unsung superpower — gratitude?
I’ve been thinking about that story.
For a few years, now, I’ve kept a “5 Best Things” journal. (In his popular book on creativity, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon says to write down the five best things about your day.) I started keeping track of my best things. It’s nice to have a record of my favorite memories, while the rotten daily junk fades with time.
As writers, we take a lot of emotional risk by putting our work out into the world. And when the work doesn’t have the desired result? Disappointment. We all could use a few tricks to help keep things in perspective. Here are a few ways I’m going to put thankfulness at the front of my mind:
For every disappointment, list three joys.
When our car was totaled last December (yay, Merry Christmas!) I was listening to a Dave Ramsey podcast. I limped the car to the side of the road and thanked God I was unhurt! Then I looked for Dave (since his voice was drifting up from somewhere on the floorboard) and thanked him because we had Christmas gifts already budgeted and an emergency fund. (This turns a crisis into an inconvenience, as Dave says. Check out this post on Dave’s baby steps to get started. Game-changing!) As I got out of the car, a nice man on his way to work pulled off to help me assess the damage, and agreed the car wasn’t drivable. Thank you, kind passerby!
When I think of that morning, the warm memory of gratitude and relief takes away the sting. No, it wasn’t fair and, yes, I loved that little car, but what are those feelings compared to the morning’s blessings? Small.
Likewise, sometimes it can seem like a disaster when our creative work flops, gets derailed, or worse–flat-out rejected. It can feel like we’re the ones being rejected, not just our creation. During times like this, it’s so valuable to be able to remember three previous successes, times we really knocked it out of the park. If you’re just getting started, remember how many people wish they were where you are: taking the first shaky steps toward your goals.
If you can’t think of three joys for every stinker, expand your search a little. Everyone has a “Jonah Day” now and then — a day that gets worse and worse. If you’re having one, I’m sorry! When a day’s been so bad you can’t think of a single redeeming quality, think big and think small:
I’m most grateful for the health of my family. Health is precious. Also, I can flip a switch and light comes on, I have a soft comfy place to rest my head at night, and I know where I’ll find my next meal. That means I’m spared from the stress that’s a daily reality for much of the world.
When we compare our life to the lives we see on social media, in magazines, and on tv, it feels like we are lacking. But when we remember how rich we truly are, the discontent melts away and we can rest in gratitude.
And even though writing is often REALLY HARD, I’m blessed I get to do it all. Not too long ago in human history, I’d be managing a pack of young children, probably tied to an endless list of home management tasks. Who had the time or freedom to pursue writing in those days? Just a handful of brave women. (And there weren’t that many men with the resources to “get after it”, either…) Now? Having a huge market is a great problem to have, folks.
We can also revel in the small blessings. If I’m feeling down, I keep a stack of nice notes I’ve received from students over the years — those always make me smile. I love to open the spice cabinet, and inhale the earthy savory smells that greet me. (So much so that whenever I open it, I automatically take a deep breath. Guess I’m trained!) And there’s the odd stray cat that adopted us. I’m flattered he chose us and feels safe now. His ragged bobbed tail and missing front claws tell of a mysterious previous life. He certainly reminds me to be appreciative.
We are surrounded by small miracles and wonders all the time, but are often too busy to notice. Sometimes I have to put the phone down and gather my attention on the details I’ve been too distracted to see.
I’m no poet, but I think the poetic form lends itself particularly well to the expression of small miracles and gracious moments. If you’re feeling sad or ticked off, try your pen at poetry for a half-hour or so. See if you don’t feel better, fast.
NOW YOU: How do you overcome disappointment and keep gratitude at the front of your mind? When you’re having a Jonah day, how do you recover your thankfulness?