Smoking looks cool. I’m sorry, it does. In my fantasy life, after I’ve gunned down human traffickers without getting any blood on my sleek black trench coat and before I head off to a gig with my Led Zeppelin cover band I lean up against my black Ducati…and light a cigarette. It just wouldn’t have the same effect if I, say, bit into an apple or patted a kitten or posted a double rainbow meme on Facebook.
Smoking kills. Duh. And it causes a myriad of other problems. Duh. So why do people still do it? Despite knowing the risks there seems to be some sort of satisfaction from it, even if it’s temporary. The same could be said for letting anger and catastrophic thinking dictate our day. It causes you all kinds of grief but there’s something addictive about it. I’ve never been addicted to smoking, but I spent a good 25-30 years being a Negative Nancy. I hated school, I hated work, I hated people for not being my friends (how dare they!), I hated men for not falling at my feet hopelessly in love (how dare they!!), I hated my body, I hated my personality, I hated my inability to be perfect, I hated myself for not even being able to end my miserable waste of a life.
Venting my anger and hate and frustration had the same instant gratification of that first tingly drag on a cigarette. Having a good sobbing ugly cry was as much as a release as that first exhale of smoke. I was at the mercy of my emotions. Although I felt helpless, I also felt secure—something or someone else was responsible for my situations and feelings, not me! I didn’t have to do a thing but just sit back and watch the misfortune that I seemed to be so good at attracting unfold. My addiction was killing me.
If it takes more muscles to frown than smile then it burns more calories, right?
For years I was blind to the amazing things I DID have going for me. It was like having a garage full of beautiful race cars but continuing to commute on a rusty old bicycle. Putting all my happiness onto one outcome was a crapshoot. Narrow expectations often led to disappointment. Through guidance from a trusted mentor, using journaling as a way to observe myself, and several years of hard work, I realized that I had more power over my destiny than I thought. The more appreciative I became, the more good fortune came to me—work situations, relationships, money, health.
Here’s the thing: gratitude takes a conscious effort, at least at first. Complaining and commiserating is contagious and almost expected. Misery had been my default setting for so long that I had to (and still do) make constant attitude adjustments. That heady buzz you get on the first drag of a cigarette feels pretty good, but coughing up mysterious green goop the next day feels pretty awful. The more I practiced gratitude, though, the easier it became and joy eventually replaced the emotional stronghold of anger and misery. For those of you who follow the Law of Attraction, my vibration was much higher.
Okay I’m done rolling my eyes at the sappiness. What do I do to feel better already?
1. Have a crap day? What was ONE good thing that happened? It’s OK, I’ll wait…oh, you woke up, right? Awesome!
2. Something else I like to do is play the “Lucky Breaks” game. I think about all the “lucky” things that happened, even if they’re small and silly—I got a parking spot when people were circling a crowded lot like vultures. Yay! We happened to go to yoga class on a different night and saw a random display of fireworks outside afterwards. Woo-hoo! A coworker ordered an extra sandwich by mistake and gave it to me. Yeah buddy! A meeting on a day I wanted to take off was rescheduled. F*cking A!
3. Write it down. I know its clichéd, and I know you’ve seen this a thousand other times online, in books, and on TV, so I’m not taking credit for the idea…but it works. Writing down what you’re grateful for, the luck you had that day, or whatever positive things happened or epiphanies or changes of heart you had gets it out of your head and puts it square in your face—proof that things aren’t as bad as you thought they were. It’s like celebrating Thanksgiving every day but without gaining weight from all the stuffing and pumpkin pie.
4. Do something you enjoy to get your mind off how much you think your life sucks. For me it’s taekwondo, yoga, swimming, and cooking healthy meals. For others it could be watching a funny movie, playing with their puppy, or meditating. For others it’s smoking. Ha, gotcha! I said it kills you; I never said people don’t enjoy it.
And lest I contradict myself and fall into the trap of magical thinking, I still keep my feet grounded in reality. Bad things are going to happen, and I’m going to have to do things I don’t like to do. That’s just life. But gratitude for the abundance that I do have makes it a whole lot sweeter and opens my eyes to opportunities ripe for the taking.
I’m still sarcastic. I still narrow my eyes and ask a barrage of questions when something seems fishy. I still get angry and cry and curse unpleasant situations. But I’m doing the work on a consistent basis. I am quickly wielding the power to change my reality instead of letting reality own me. These days the only thing I light up is a scented candle. When I see the glass half-empty it doesn’t mean life sucks. It just means I need a refill on my wine.