If you are into self-help, woo-woo, DBT, or are a curious individual, you’ll notice the core of all of these practices contain two main components to help you along the way to being happier and thus having a more fulfilling life.
I’m going to give them to you for free. No more self-help books, sketchy websites, or paying for gurus1.
Mindfulness and gratitude.
Every website and self-help book will bury these ledes in the opening pages of their annals and yet build their entire systems around these two concepts. Yet once you get into the meat of their woo-wooease, you’ll find them all tucked in and ready to work.
How does mindfulness and gratitude work?
To achieve mindfulness, you meditate and if you meditate, you’ll be more in the present. If you’re more in the present, you’ll begin to feel less anxiety and stress, more compassion for yourself and others and a fuck ton of other awesome benefits. Being mindful helps with the awareness of what’s happening in and around you — a thought is just a thought, a feeling is just a feeling; you do not have to react to either one. Being aware of those things helps you make better, and more informed, decisions about what is happening around you. You don’t act on impulses or steer from difficult decisions. You accept that a zillion decisions brought you to this point, you can accept that you can make choices on going forward. It is not “things happen for a reason.” That’s bullshit. You know it and I know it. Stop believing in it.
Gratitude is the complement to mindfulness. Gratitude allows you to be thankful for what you have rather than what you want. It concentrates on the being rather than the material. You are thankful for your parents (yes, even if you are divorced from them) because without them, you wouldn’t be here. You are thankful for your killer hair. You are thankful for the experiences you’ve had to help shape you. You’re grateful for the friends who believe and support in you.
(A good one, for me, is to be grateful for TheBassist breaking up with me (shut it). If he had not broken it off and put clear boundaries on his needs, the cycle would have continued. I would have gotten worse. Crashing that fateful October day is probably the best thing that’s happened to me in years. The cyclical of my relationships wasn’t just with TheBassist but with other aspects of my life. I’ve accepted, and said a zillion times, I may never hear from him again but if there is one thing I want him to know is this.)
You can make it as large (I am grateful for my family for loving me) to small (I am grateful for my friend who rubbed my feet after a long day). The idea is to find one thing to be grateful for, every day, which will keep you anchored in the present and then follow the mindfulness train of thought above to continue on with your enlightenment.
(I know it’s going to take me awhile to get beyond “I have killer hair” and I’m okay with that knowledge.)
At this point you are asking yourself (more than likely) the following question(s),”Lisa, why should we believe you? Sometimes when you write, things sound cray. Seriously. Cray.” or something along those lines. Hey, I get it. I’d have a hard time listening to me too.
I’ve been meditating for 211 days in a row and in the beginning, I thought it was a crock of shit. But allowing myself to be open to the idea, and practicing the tenants, has really helped in the long game. There are a lot of potentially stupid actions I mulled over, thanks to meditation, before realizing they were not in my best interest, so I didn’t act on them. I am less likely to be impulsive then I was six months ago. This is important to note.2
(There is one decision I mulled over for months before finally acting on it. I know others would see it as detrimental to my well being but in the end, making that decision made me feel better and knowing its consequences may not ever be realized also help.3)
I asked my therapist what makes someone who has a mental illness different than someone who has healthy4 reactions to stressful things such as having low self-esteem or social anxiety. She said that’s a good question and after thinking about it for a few moments, her response was along the lines of someone who has a healthy relationship with stress is more prepared and better able to handle that stress where as someone who is mentally ill, the stress is heightened and we’re less likely to handle it in a healthy way.
The goal is not to get stable (because no one is really stable) or normal (no one is really normal) but to handle and prepare healthy responses to stressful things.
Which is where the meditation and gratitude come in. It’s all full circle.
P.S. I highly recommend reading Zen Habits to get you started. You can also mediate using my favorite (and often my pushy instance of) app, Headspace.
1. I am not a doctor. I am not trained to dispense advice or consultation. If you’re mentally ill, think you’re mentally ill, or have additional questions about your mental health, please seek professional help.
2. TheExHusband often comments how I relate and respond to things is much better in the last 6 -9 months and a lot of that has to do with meditation.
3. Yes, I am being completely vague. No, I’m not going to tell you. No, it’s probably not what you think it is.
4. We kept saying “normal” instead of healthy and we air quoted “normal” every time we did so we decided that “healthy” (sans air quotes) was a better description.