Gratitude is the antidote

by Rayna van Aalst December 30, 2017

Gratitude is the antidote

The other day I checked my email and I saw a newsletter from a company I follow called Angela Roi, which makes fantastic vegan bags and accessories. The title of the email was “Top 5 We Achieved Together This Year”.

I hadn’t even opened the email, but I felt a sting in my heart. I decided that what I felt wasn’t worth paying attention to and I moved on with my day. Or so I thought.

For the next few hours I was very easily irritated and there came a moment when I snapped at my daughter without her being at fault. When I caught myself, I apologized to her and explained that something bothered me.

It turned out that although I had decided to move on, or in other words to pretend I wasn’t affected by it, this Angela Roi thing still bothered me.

What happened was that I saw the subject of the newsletter and I knew that one of things in it would be their partnership with Bloomingdale’s, the fancy department store.

And the problem was I couldn’t say the same thing for Reina Organics…

In the aftermath of my Angela Roi x Rayna van Aalst story, the rest of which comes later on, I realized how we often rush through our lives without ever taking a moment to celebrate our successes.

And then just one photo on Instagram, or in my case one newsletter, throws us on a downward spiral of misery.

In both cases gratitude is the antidote.

I know I’m not alone so below I’ve put together some practices and wise words (from wise people) to help you live in gratitude.

When comparing myself to others…

When I find myself comparing to others, I think of the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, if I’m not mistaken, who says we compare ourselves to others while their dreams are not ours to start with. In other words, we most likely don’t even want what they want but we feel bad for not having what they have.

Going back to the Angela Roi example – I’ve never wanted a partnership with Bloomingdale’s!!! Why would I feel bad about that?!

(I’m not a fan of multiple exclamation marks but when I realized why I felt like a failure for hours and snapped at my daughter, I felt that just one exclamation mark wasn’t enough.)

There are also small wins. They count too.

As a typical A-type personality, I (used to) count only my big achievements. Sometimes “big” is also not enough. Graduating university, for instance, is not something I considered an achievement because the majority of my high-school classmates graduated university too.

So you can imagine my reaction when a few years ago I was told that I needed to celebrate the small stuff too – that I read a book, that I called a friend for their birthday, that I wrote one paragraph of a blog post. Especially on days when I feel like binge watching Netflix 24/7.

What helped me with that was an exercise I’m sharing with you at the end of this post. That excercise showed me that the feeling of gratitude is equally strong when you’re grateful for something “small” (a hug from my daughter) and something “big” (moving to the Netherlands).

I also often think of a quote from Mark Manson from his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” – “You are not special”. We feel entitled to be extraordinary and then we suffer because we aren’t.

“After all, if everyone was extraordinary, then by definition, no one would be extraordinary”

P.S. It took me a few years but I finally see graduating university as an accomplishment. And a big one at that.

Gratitude as a daily practice

Living in gratitude is a habit.

I write down every morning 3 things I’m grateful for in my Five Minute Journal and in the evening I write 3 amazing things that happened that day. You can you use a simple notebook too, as long as you write them down by hand.

And don’t forget the small things.

Look back, with gratitude

If I am completely honest, I believe that I still live most of my life looking in the future. And If I look back, it's not to be grateful.

I try to make time at least every three months to look back in my life and count my blessings. Funny how every time, I always find something new to be grateful for, something I had long forgotten.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine recommended booklet called YearCompass which “helps to close your year and plan the next one.” It's free and you don't need to sign up for anything to download, just click a button.

Of course, you can use this booklet for any period of time – half a year or a quarter.

When you’re grateful, there is no space for negative emotions in your heart

When the going gets tough emotionally, I turn to an exercise I’ve learned from Tony Robbins and Ananda Giri, which I’ve modified slightly.

When I notice I am experiencing a negative emotion – stress, frustration, anger, etc, I stop and sit down in a quite place. I breathe for a few minutes with my eyes closed, focusing on what I’m feeling. Just observing.

After that I write down my thoughts, as they come, no censoring. Usually while writing down I would “see” what the cause has been. Sometimes however when the emotion is more complex or more intense, I would close my eyes again, observe my feelings for a few minutes more and start writing down again.

In the original exercise, you don’t write your thoughts down, you just observe them. This works for me only for smaller things.

Then you close your eyes again and you put your hands on your heart. Breathe for a while focusing on your heart, feeling it beat. Then slowly think of something you're grateful for - someone in your life, something you did, something someone said, a delicious meal you've had, anything. It’s important to stay with it, don’t just name it.

If it’s a kiss you got from your loved one – think of where you were, what you wore, what (s)he wore, his/her perfume, the skin, the warmth of the skin, what did you say to each other and most of all feel what you felt back then. Stay there, enjoy it.

Then move on to the next thing. And the next. And the next. Until your heart is full of gratitude.

I'd love to hear from you.

Which part resonated the most deeply and why? What are your practices to live in gratitude?

Rayna van Aalst
Rayna van Aalst