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The power of practicing gratitude

Let’s be honest for a second. Everyone has bad days, and everyone complains.

Complaining is a natural aspect of human discussion. When we are dissatisfied with something in our lives, maybe the price of gas or our economics professor, being able to air out our grievances to our close friends and partners, or even in a journal, is not only commonplace but an incredibly healthy practice. Venting is a valuable method of stress relief that I practice regularly, and I urge those around me to do so as well.

However, I often wonder if I complain too often. As someone gifted an incredible life surrounded by loving individuals, do I really have anything to complain about? Am I just bored and need something to talk about?

I first reflected on my complaining habits as a sophomore in high school. After a particularly rough week of basketball practices and games, I was fed up with the demands of the sport and was near the point of losing all of my motivation to continue improving in my game. When confiding in a teacher about my feelings, she responded by saying something along the lines of the following:

“I think it is great that you are able to participate in so many activities outside of school. Not many people are afforded those opportunities, especially in third-world countries. I am sure they would love to be able to do what you do.”

That impromptu pep talk was the perspective shift I needed. Instead of complaining about basketball as something I had to do, I began to look at it as something I got to do. This new mindset changed how and why I continued playing the game – motivating me to play and practice as if I would never be able to again – and translated into every other aspect of my life.

Since that sit down with my teacher, I have practiced gratitude daily.

For me, the process of practicing gratitude starts with my body. When I wake up in the morning, I am thankful for the ability to walk and talk at my own volition. I like to note how my feet feel on the floor as soon as I get out of bed, and I appreciate the waking sensation that ripples across them while I walk to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat. I also appreciate how strong my body is, and I am thankful for my ability to work out and test its limits daily.

Beyond the body, practicing gratitude has allowed me to find the positive in adverse situations. When my vehicle had a flat tire while traversing down the highway, I was thankful that I had the physical and monetary means to replace it – and saw it as an opportunity to learn how to care for the rest of my tires properly instead of a significant inconvenience that would ruin my whole day.

Even when college courses get tough, or the workload of some courses seems overbearing, I take a deep breath and remind myself that graduate school is a luxury and privilege that not many can afford. Rather than complaining about discussion board posts or term paper outlines, I remind myself that attending college is an incredible and fulfilling experience. These reminders have helped me view my degree as an honor, not a social requirement.

Yet, this shift toward a more grateful mindset is a continuous work in progress. While it took me several years to obtain the laid-back demeanor I have, I still have moments where I break down, cry, and complain. It is easy to let negative emotions get in the way, but the more we prioritize positive thinking, the more it strengthens our lives.

The bottom line is that being positive, grateful, and fulfilled in life takes practice. Our growth in this regard is not linear – there will be days when you want to curl up in a ball and make the world disappear. That is fine, and I encourage you to indulge in such acts occasionally. However, practicing intentionality in every aspect of your life will make you realize how wonderful it truly is.

So, if you will choose anything in this life, choose positive.

— — —

Andie Balenger is a native of Gladstone and is currently attending Northern Michigan University. Her column addresses topics from the perspective of a young adult and runs Thursdays in the Daily Press.

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