The other day, I tried buying a car.
I found the perfect vehicle and went to the car dealership to negotiate. But while I was negotiating with one salesperson, another salesperson sold the car I wanted out from under me.
I went home pissed off. Then I told myself to come up with 10 reasons I was grateful for the crappy experience.
I call this practice the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown. I can’t stop until I count down 10 reasons I am grateful for the crappy situation on each finger and thumb.
In doing the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown about the car dealership fiasco, I realized I was grateful that I didn’t have to deal with repaying a bank loan. I was grateful that I didn’t own an expensive thing that “owned” me. I was grateful that I could park my old car anywhere and not care about scratches and dents. I felt freer. I was able to let the situation go and move on.
I’m a master complainer. I hone in on the one negative thing and neglect the ten amazing things that happen to me on any given day. I have to use techniques like the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown and the Kurt Vonnegut approach for acknowledging amazing moments to move beyond my comfort zone of complaining and ruminating.
Recently I found out that one of my cats has incurable cancer. The news broke my heart. After I did the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown, I acknowledged my gratitude that I could afford his medical care. I was grateful that my cat was not in pain. I was grateful for his mother for all the wonderful love and care she had given our cat. The Two Hands Gratitude Countdown opened me up to new, more expansive ways to experience the situation.
I’ve begun noticing that these Gratitude Countdowns trigger my brain to look for the upside of crappy situations in real time. While my instinct is to ruminate, a new part of me proactively goes in search of the hidden blessings.
The other night my house lost power after a terrible thunderstorm. I woke up the next morning with no way to make coffee. Me without morning coffee is not a good thing. I drove in search of an open Starbucks. My complaining brain was fussing about the inconvenience of the storm. With my hands on the steering wheel, I began to count on my fingers and thumbs. No one was hurt. The morning air was crisp and the sky was a beautiful blue after the storm. My biggest problem was a lack of coffee. By the time I pulled into Starbucks, I was no longer fussing.
The Two Hands Gratitude Countdown encourages me to see my crappy situations differently—not superficially “looking on the bright side,” but recognizing the blessings that even crappy situations can offer.
Getting to two hands worth of gratitude about lousy situations can be tough at first, especially when we’re super pissed off or sad about something.
Sometimes I allow myself five minutes to be upset. Then I move on to letting go of the anger by accepting the situation with the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown.
For tough situations, try gently encouraging yourself to start with just one hand’s worth of gratitude—or even one finger. What is one thing you could be grateful for regarding this situation? Then keep going.
This practice can strengthen our gratitude and acceptance muscles. Weightlifters like to work their muscles with different exercises, and the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown may bring more dimension and connectedness to your normal gratitude practice.
Over time, the Two Hands Gratitude Countdown may help us spot the good hidden in the bad in real time. What used to get us down becomes easier and easier to brush off.
I still complain. But I find my complaining feels increasingly hollow—a habit that has outlived its original usefulness. Instead of staying stuck in my anger or frustration, I now give myself permission to find the grace in the crap.
So I can move on.
Author: Stephen Moegling
Image: Flickr/Craig Sunter
Editors: Yoli Ramazzina; Nicole Cameron