I used to be sceptical about cultivating an attitude of gratitude! I’d see friends share gratitude lists or memes on facebook and cringe. It felt forced… fake… an attempt to bypass deeper feelings of disappointment.
… and on some level I was right.. gratitude can be used that way. People can deny their true feelings and try to cover everything up with positivity… and that strategy can completely backfire.
However, gratitude can also be a powerful habit. A mindset. The more you make a decision to switch your mind over to what you do appreciate the more you find yourself naturally appreciative. It takes over. It becomes more of a default way of being.. and when that happens it’s not fake.
I first started trying out this “gratitude” mindset when I found myself living in, what I then considered a very ugly and soulless suburb of Melbourne, Australia.
I moved out there because housing had become unaffordable for me in my usual inner Melbourne hood. Living in the burbs meant I could rent my own place, without housemates and with plenty of room to make music and noise!
However, I was faced with what I called “cultural desolation” and “vast suburban ugliness” divided by “shit parks.” My house is a pretty plain and simple red brick dwelling with weedy grass backyard next to a footy oval.
When I first moved here I found myself disturbed by the general atmosphere: the 80s supermarket, the desolate main street where every second shop is vacant and for rent, the café with the extremely lame name that makes lates too hot, the monster shopping mall, fast food joints that look like they may not even be operational.
I remember thinking to myself “you know you’re in the ghetto when the peeling paint on the local KFC looks like it hasn’t been touched up since the 80s.”
Whilst this was my experience, my perception at the time, my truth.. I had made my decision for good reason and this is where I found myself. A friend told me to try being grateful. “Be grateful for the red bricks in your house, be grateful for the footy oval, hell even be grateful for the walls”, she suggested.
I didn’t get it at the time but I respected my friend, who had always been kind and generous so I decided to give it a go.
I started being grateful for the trees around the oval, the birds and the wildlife. I started being grateful for my house, for a roof over my head. I acknowledged that it wasn’t the best house in the world but that it was still keeping me sheltered from the elements and serving an important purpose.
I would drive down the main street on the way to the shops and be grateful for anything I saw that seemed beautiful within the “ugliness”.. I was grateful for the 70s church that almost seemed kitschy between it’s more modern neighbours. I was grateful for the stained glass and the motivational quotes they would post on the board out front.
I found myself grateful for the feeling of being safe. Knowing there was always food available. Grateful for the fact that is wasn’t a war torn country. You get the drift!
One day I was driving down the main street and tying to search for things to feel grateful about and I asked myself what am I not seeing here? Where is the beauty I’m not seeing? What’s here that I’m not appreciating.
that night I logged onto facebook and noticed someone had posted a picture of that same main street as it was in the 1940s. I clicked on it and it led to the local historic society’s facebook page.
I was so blown away with how beautiful things used to look around here. It looked like parts of inner Melbourne.. this could have been Brunswick St! There was a beautiful old cinema, a picturesque homestead, a gorgeous church (not in a kitschy way), rolling green hills, a historic pub… if only I could go back in time.
Does any of this still exist I wondered? Are there any historic buildings still standing? These questions led to a new and deeper appreciation of my local area.
I found a historic cemetery 20 mins walk from my house: graves dating back to the 1840s.. it was fascinating! Bang in the middle of modern housing developments. I had no idea it was there before.
I found an old homestead manor that was majestic overlooking 150 year old pine trees planted by early pioneers.
I started seeing history everywhere. I found remnants of an old river swimming pool and that we had the oldest apple tree in Victoria.
I found an incredible app that shows an areal view of Melbourne now and in 1945 http://www.1945.melbourne/ and was able to see the farms that were on this land before my house was built. It was fascinating.
Suddenly I was seeing everything through new eyes and I felt a real and genuine sense of gratitude.
Now I go for a morning walk and instead of noticing all the ugly houses I now see remnant trees and can take a guess at how old they are and what sort of farms they might have been part of.
I notice old houses I never realised were there before. I can consider which era they were built and notice the different architectural giveaways. .. and I’m not trying to see it differently or to be grateful for what’s there. It’s just become a new way of looking at things.
Today I’m really grateful for history and noticing the changing shapes of time.
If you like this blog please consider supporting me by checking out my favourite mental health expert: Dr Kelly Brogan MD (Holistic Psychiatrist). I’m an online affiliate of her 44 Day Vital Mind Reset Course. It’s amazing!!