Counting My Blessings: How an Attitude of Gratitude Changed My Outlook on Life

About eight years ago, my friend Daniel private messaged me on Facebook after I’d posted a comment about some egregious thing New Jersey Transit had done that morning. He’s a spiritual sort of guy and he said that as much as he loved looking at pics of my kid growing up, my constant kvetching about the world was wearing on him. Instead of just unfollowing me, he challenged me for a month not to post the negative thoughts that I had every day. Not to say that if a real life challenge like a true illness or loss of a friend came up I couldn’t post about it, but basically to stop whining about how much my commute sucked, or how the daily annoyances of my job.

I am sure that I rolled my eyes. I was in a pretty negative post-divorce space at the time. But, because I like Daniel I decided to do it. So when the deli screwed up my order for the 900th time, I didn’t post about it. When I got soaked by a car that sped through a puddle, I didn’t tell the world that my day sucked.

And after the month ended… I just kept doing it. Now when I see Facebook memories from before that time pop up, I feel super stupid that I even wasted those keystrokes. This is not to say that my life became perfect and easy after that, but that instead of putting my negative, whiny energy out into the universe for all of social media to commiserate with, I didn’t feed that energy. I got mad and either fixed the problem and then I moved on.

Or so I thought…

Instead I unwittingly transferred all my complaining offline and to my friends/family. I would call my mom and the first words out of my mouth were complaints. About my day, my commute, my ex husband, a bad date, etc… And she would constantly tell me I was so negative. Then I’d get annoyed at her because I kept feeling like I could BE more positive if the world wasn’t out to get me, or if people didn’t piss me off so much.

Over a year ago when I started my Reiki training and mediating daily, I realized, my mom was right (of course). I was negative, and that was weighing my down. I’d spend valuable time in my life complaining about everything to anyone that would listen, and while I’d smile and look positive on the outside, my inner voice and attitude sucked. All the guides and teachers I’d talk to would advise me to keep a journal of experiences, and write down what I was grateful for.

Queue some more eye rolls. I did it begrudgingly at first, but then I couldn’t stop.

I definitely don’t sit and write about it daily like I’m supposed to, I mean too, but I totally get distracted. But when I complain about something at work, I got home and write in my journal that while some days or events are a struggle I’m glad I have a job. When I complain about some dumb date or being single, I look for the positive: At least I get to spend more time with my cats. Or my friends. Or my plants. It makes me sound a little bit nutty, but it is so true.

I’ve accomplished a lot more in this past year and a half then I think I did in the three years before that. I still call my mom or friends when I’m annoyed, but I’m doing a better job at not dwelling in the annoyance and frustrations. So when the bad stuff happens, I can try and find the positive. And believe me, some days that is NOT easy, some days it is just I’m grateful that my teenager doesn’t hate me too much yet. But the more I sit and write what I’m grateful for, the more I realize just how lucky I am. I may not have much money, but I am afforded a lot of wonderful opportunities. I may not be super lucky in love, but I’m have amazingly supportive friends and a wonderful family. I may not be the fastest runner, or the most fit girl out there, but I am blessed to be able to have a body that can walk for miles or life heavy things.

I was recently in a fender bender and instead of crying or getting angry, I actually said aloud in the car, at least no one was hurt. I dealt with it and moved on. A few years ago I would have cried and complained to anyone that listened about how this inconvenienced my life, how my new car was ruined and how much money it cost and how it ruined my budget, but instead, I actually felt thankful. Thankful that I was OK and had the funds to fix my car, had good insurance and wasn’t injured and was alone in the car. That’s how I know my attitude of gratitude is actually changing my life.

My Hardest Hiking Experience

Over the years, I’ve hiked bigger mountains in Yosemite. I’ve done longer hikes, including a 24.3 mile trek of the Devil’s Path in the Catskills (which my brother and I insanely did in 25 hours of pretty much straight hiking). I’ve even hiked bigger mountains in New Hampshire, like Mount Washington which I’ve been up several different ways multiple times. I’ve even hiked in blistering 105 degree heat in Texas. But hiking a few weeks back up Mount Willey in the White Mountains of NH was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve done.

My dad hiking Mount Willey

I’m not in the best shape lately, but I’m a work in progress, so when my aunt encouraged me to go hiking with her while I was up in Maine visiting for a weekend, I told her it needed to be a fun hike with a good view and something special for the teenagers I’d have with me. I had seen pics of hers and my mothers with gray jay birds eating trail mix out of their hands and declared that the hike I wanted to do. At around 5 miles long, everyone assured me that if I could get over the tricky ladder section, this hike was a snap.

Everyone is a liar.

My friend’s daughter rightly kept asking, “who made this path?!”

This may be a snap for people who hike the White Mountains all the time, or people in excellent shape, but not for the rest of us mortals.

This hike of the 4,285 foot peak started out OK. I was moving slow, slower than my dad (who is an avid hiker) and my daughter and her friend. But I felt just fine. My aunt (a weekend warrior who is on a mission to do all the 4,000 footers in NH) and her friend had done a sunrise hike on a nearby mountain and were going to catch up to us. I kept plodding away, walking slow and steady so I didn’t get injured.

My daughter and her friend waiting for me to catch up

And we got to the ladders. Which were… interesting. They are these big wooden round planks that look like Lincoln Logs, and you climb them. Not a big deal, but when you get to the top of one, you have to shimmy over to the next one a few feet (because they are off center), and there is NOTHING to hold on to. You are just hanging out on a little 2×4 plank, hoping you don’t make a misstep.

The beginning of the ladders… there were more…

It took me a while, and my dad (who had done this hike before said it was not far from there to the top), so he and the girls took off ahead, while I plodded on the uneven, rocky terrain. Because they had taken breaks a lot while waiting for me to catch up to them, they would take off when they saw me. Not wanting to slow the group down, I felt like I couldn’t rest, which was a mistake for me.

Me trying to look brave with the girls behind me

I ended up with a massive migraine. I was so dizzy and had little spots in front my eyes and my head was just pounding. But I could take a step up a boulder, pause a second, gain my equilibrium and then keep walking. It was a slower process than I wanted, but it was doable. I knew once I got to the top I’d have a rest, and most importantly get to see the view and feed the birds.

Somehow this counts as a “path”

I do remember cursing a few times seeing rocky structures like this one pictured above and wondering how to get over them with my swirling headache, but I used a full body hiking move, where I’d lean and use my hands and knees. Looks ridiculous, but it works!

Then we got to the top. The mountain was in a complete cloud and this was the view.

yeah, our “view” was this foggy white backdrop

Then we waited for a while for the birds to come out. My dad had a friend who was there two days prior and saw the birds. But they did NOT want to come out for us. I felt like crap, I had pushed to the top of the mountain (which didn’t even have a good view or the promised birds) and I felt like I had no idea how I was going to make it down. It had taken almost twice as long as we’d planned to get up to the top, and I was already wiped.

Oh, and my aunt never caught up with us because she had her own issues on the other mountain.

So. Many. Rocks.

I started back down. Every step was really hard. My legs were holding up OK, but my head was not. And trying to find balance going down hill on rocks that were kind of wet, with a migraine is not something I particularly recommend to anyone. It was taking forever and I was starting to worry we wouldn’t make it down before dark, even though it was only 3 PM. It was supposed to be a simple 5 mile hike so I didn’t have my full overnight gear on me.

But I followed my mantra that got me through marathons – just keep swimming. I know it is just a silly Finding Nemo quote, but it really keeps me moving. Just. Keep. Swimming. I would huff out as I’d walk. I got to the ladder section and decided that with the constant dizziness my best bet was to “butt slide” down, like a little kid. It worked, and Catie (my daughter’s friend) shouted up that was how she’d gone down too. I could see everyone else looking exhausted due to the sheer amount of hours we’d been hiking because of my slowness, but no one really complained, except for my own daughter who was mad it took me a long time to get to the top because I had the snacks and bird food.

How I felt for most of the hike

We made it down, eventually, and safely. But I felt … not accomplished. Instead I felt defeated. I had picked this hike for the birds and they weren’t there. I held everyone up and we took twice as long as we planned. I dragged two teenagers out and slowed them down. My father could have done that hike twice in the time that it took me to do it once. It was still a long drive back to my parents. The kids definitely would have preferred the mountain coasters and the park next door next to this exhausting day adventure.

They were all supportive, and had offered kind words during and after, but I just felt like a massive letdown. I know it wasn’t really my fault I got a headache and didn’t think to pack my fancy migraine meds. I know I should have taken more breaks and worried less about the few extra minutes of hiking time. But I didn’t. I spent several days after beating myself up about everything I did wrong.

But then, I recent realized, I still climbed a 4,200 foot mountain. I spent the day in nature. And, most importantly, I did it, despite the massive hurdles I faced. I’m a fat person, way bigger than anyone else I saw on the trail (male or female). I only cried once (when I heard my daughter say “is she ever getting here.”). I pulled myself over rocks and through mud and over some obstacles that weren’t great for me since I like feeling a bit more stable when off the ground. And I never stopped moving, even when I felt like quitting. So while this hike was hard, and at times quite miserable, looking back, I think it was a pretty great achievement in my book.