The other night I walked with my son for over an hour in the middle of the night. He awoke for who knows what reason (possibly teething, a learning leap, bad dream, or another reason I will never know) and I did everything I could to help him fall back asleep. After running into the crib for a third time, I felt myself become frustrated, irritated, and angry. The emotions flooded over me. At that moment, I had a choice, one that I easily missed when I focus on my frustration. The choice was this: focus on the problem in the moment or the positive things in the moment.
The general idea of utilizing gratitude is to change your feelings by focusing on things you are grateful for in order to gain perspective. For example, twelve-step programs utilize gratitude to shift a person’s perspective from the negative to the positive. As a therapist, I found this technique helped those facing addiction, marriage strife, defiant children, or really any other situation. But how can focusing on gratitude help you when your angry, frustrated, or hurting, even at work?
Human beings naturally possess a negative bias, which is a foundation of how we see the world. This means if ten events happen in a day, nine positive and one negative, we naturally focus on the negative. Left unchecked, we will focus on the bad aspects of a situation over the positive, even when the positive outweighs the negative.
Back to the example from the start, the choice I faced was to focus on the negatives or the positives of my midnight escapade. What would have happened if I focused on the negatives? Ruminating on my frustration of being awake, my son crying, and my feeling powerless to help him stop, I would focus on everything going wrong, making me feel worse. The second choice I had was to focus on the positives. I had the joy of holding my son when he was crying, the opportunity to comfort him, and the physical health to pace while holding his wiggly body.
Looking at the things I am thankful for has the power to counter my negative bias to proactively create a positive perspective. Yes, my son was crying in the moment and I chose to see the moment as an honor to comfort my son. What a gift! When I choose to focus on the positives and what I’m grateful for my attitude instantly changes. At any moment, a number of reasons exist to grumble; simultaneously, a number of reasons abound to be grateful and choose to be joyful.
Exchange walking with a crying child for a pitch going horribly wrong, a flat tire on the way to work, or a morning argument with your spouse. The details of the scenario differ, while the core remains the same. In any difficult scenario, we possess a choice to see the positive or negative side. What would happen if you choose to see the positives or reflect on those things for which you are grateful? Being upset at a difficult project at work can become being grateful for having a challenging, creative job. Having a flat tire can become a moment of thankfulness for having a car. What perspective do you wear every day? Today, I challenge you to choose gratefulness and pay attention to how you experience your day.