The One Piece Of Advice That Completely Changed My Life
The day I turned 30 (almost seven years ago), my entire life changed.
Nothing eventful happened but, almost overnight, I completely changed my mindset. Something in me transformed -- and it has so far, for the most part, stayed that way.
I received some advice I’ve never forgotten.
Not only that, I’ve plagiarised it and passed it off as my own! Now I use it to help friends who are doing it tough or just feeling under the weather.
But to really get it, you have to go back to where it all started: my gin-soaked 20s.
I’d spent my entire 20s focusing on what I didn’t have. As 20-somethings do. It’s the classic neurosis of your first post-teen, delirious, double digit decade.
I didn’t have that promotion at work and that wanky job title I so desperately desired, due to my status anxiety (“my title needs to have the word ‘senior’ in it by the time I’m 29!” I’d say. I wish I could go back and slap myself.)
I didn’t have the size 30 waist I had when I was 19 or the biceps I’d hoped to have by the time I was 29.
I didn’t have a boyfriend (anymore).
I didn’t own my own house. Or car. Or even pet hamster. Only feral mice in a cold, rented house.
I didn’t really have much self-control over my drinking.
I didn’t have the same connections as others from different backgrounds -- so, as they heard the sound of doors opening, I heard one after another creek shut in my proletariat face.
I could go on, but the 20-something me is actually starting to do my own head in.
Turning 30 felt like such a milestone, I decided I needed to take control of this messy thinking and embark on a different direction for my third decade. I started frequenting the self-help aisle in libraries.
I can’t remember where I read it now (let’s face it, it was probably American) -- but it was then I first read about the 'gratitude attitude'.
Now, I (mostly) detest schmaltz. But this seemed really simple -- focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t. Focus on what you’re grateful for now, in the present.
No matter how bad things are, there’s always something. Always. And verbalising or writing it down has always made me feel better, despite my extreme saccharine aversion.
READ MORE: Is Trying To Be Happy Making Us Miserable?
In my 30s, I can focus on the things I don’t have that I did have in my 20s. I no longer have a dad. Or a boyfriend. Or a line-free face. I don’t have a six-pack or even a 9-5 well-paid job.
But the gratitude attitude dictates I must now focus on what I do have.
I have a parent who loves me. I have best friends on both sides of the world. I have a passion for storytelling. I have a flexible job that enables me to do that, and that frees me from the imprisonment of the 9-5. I have a new attitude to drinking that (mostly) liberates me from the purgatory that is the hangover.
I’m even grateful I was that neurotic in my 20s; it made me aspirational and instilled in me a hunger and ambition I’ve been able to channel more steadily in my 30s.
There. I feel better already!
It’s this advice I gave to a friend who was going through a bad patch.
Rather than the banal ‘how are you?’ which was an invitation to indulge all the negative emotions (still important, but draining without a redressing balance), I started sending him the same six word message, regularly but out of the blue:
What are you grateful for today?
It transformed our friendship, our text conversations when we were too busy to speak, and both our mindsets.
He’d always ask me back. And even though I wasn’t feeling too shabby, it still elevated my mood, almost instantly.
Best thing about it is, once you get past the obvious ones (my health, my family), you can start to get playful with it.
I’m grateful for getting laid last night, for example, opens an infinitely more interesting conversation than the response to the inane “how are you / goodthanksyou? Good!” (this cantankerousness about the daily ennui is clearly why I need the gratitude attitude).
The most fun ones are the clearly crap things you transform with a hint of irony.
For example, when it rains, being grateful you don't have to water the garden. Or leave the house/wash.
When you slice open your finger, being grateful you don't have type 2 diabetes.
When you’re heinously hungover, being grateful for hydralyte, Netflix and masturbation.
You get the picture.
Life's small annoying things can remind you how privileged you actually are.
And I’m always grateful to check my privilege.