Where has the fall gone?! Maybe it’s because it was blazing hot here in LA only yesterday afternoon, but I feel like summer was just coming to an end and then I blinked and now it’s November! November?!! How did that happen?!
Anywho…I’m a big fan of starting out a new month with some time spent connecting to your feelings and desires in order to set some big, beautiful intentions for the weeks ahead, and this month, one of my intentions is to really connect with the experience of gratitude.
The first person I ever heard discuss gratitude as a practice was the boyfriend of one of my housemates when I was living in the Bay Area after college, and I’m not going to lie, the whole thing sounded really forced and corny to me at the time. But in the years since, I’ve come to understand why it held so much meaning for him.
Towards the end of my time in grad school, a combination of some really poor lifestyle choices, a high stress work life, and not much of a support system launched me into one of the worst periods of anxiety I have ever experienced, leading me to massively re-evaluate my life. I quit my Master’s program, moved back to Los Angeles, and began the process of healing myself and creating a life that supports my health and happiness. But before I could do that, I had to figure out what even made me happy. After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, I had really lost touch with the most basic sources of pleasure and joy in my life, and rediscovering these things is what led me to experience the incredible healing power of gratitude.
Have you ever had a stuffy nose and thought, “If I can ever breathe through my nose again, I swear I’ll never take it for granted ever again,” and then, when your nasal passages finally clear, you suddenly feel incredible, even though you’re just breathing like you normally would if you weren’t sick? Well, I sort of went through an experience like that, only times a million. Living with depression and anxiety on a daily basis is like the worst stuffed up nose you could ever imagine. I won’t speak for everyone, but in my case, it was difficult to find joy in anything. I was living in such a fog of physical discomfort (anxiety) and despair (depression) that I couldn’t really feel much else. But as I started making changes in my life and the fog started to lift, I started experiencing little moments of comfort and happiness. Because I had spent so many years unable to access these feelings, it was like my air passages clearing and being able to breathe easily again for the first time in a very long time. My awareness of the experience of positive feelings was very heightened, and I noticed anything that brought them on. The warmth of the sun on my skin in the morning. The smell of freshly cleaned sheets as I fell asleep at night. The color of the ocean or the sound of a small child’s laugh. None of these things were necessarily novel, but my deep appreciation of them made my life feel new, richer, and this helped me stay connected to the positive, uplifting parts of my experience. And that’s when I understood why a gratitude practice could be such a powerful tool for wellness.
Since then, I have used gratitude on a regular basis to maintain perspective and rein in negative mindsets. At any moment in the day, if I find myself feeling overwhelmed with anger, doubt, disappointment, or sadness, I stop and take a few minutes to think of five things in my life that I am truly grateful for. They can be anything from one of my best friends to the feeling of the breeze, but I’ve found that the more specific I am, the more positively it impacts my experience of the moment.
So, since we are entering the season of giving thanks, I am going to start a daily gratitude journal, inspired by my lovely and fierce friend, Ashley Johnson of Fierce Forward. Every day, for the next 30 days, I am going to create a list of at least 5 things that I am deeply grateful for. Here’s what went on my list today:
The view from my bedroom window – it’s nothing that would go on one of those iPhone 6 photo billboards, but it’s a west facing view with building tops and lots of sky. I can lie in bed and look at the clouds and I get to watch the sunset on a regular basis and that brings me the most wonderfully, simple joy.
Free long distance phone calls – that might sound silly, but not so long ago, people didn’t get to talk on the phone for very long if they lived long distances from each other, not to mention times before the invention of the telephone. My younger sister lives in Denver and it’s so important for me to be able to stay connected with her and know what’s going on in her life, especially now that she is pregnant with her first child. I am so grateful that I get to chat with her whenever I want to, whether that’s only for a few minutes in between errands or for a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday when we’ve both got some down time.
My new friend, Emilie Talermo – I met Emilie recently through my wellness coaching program and we clicked pretty much instantly. Beyond being a beautiful person inside and out, she’s up to some seriously inspiring stuff, like sharing incredible health and wellness content on her blog, creating an online meditation company from the ground up, and sharing some of the most effortlessly cool images on her Instagram feed. I definitely feel like I hit the new friend jackpot with this girl and feel super lucky to get to be a part of her journey.
Speaking of photos—my camera – My camera has become so much more than a gadget to me. It’s a tool for brining more beauty into my life. When I’m having a rough day, feeling stressed, or even just a bit restless, I grab my camera, walk out my front door, and go “beauty-hunting”. The world takes on a totally different appearance when you're looking at it from the perspective of searching for something beautiful to capture. Suddenly, the reflection of some trees on the surface of a puddle is a source of wonder and fascination. What a gift.
And last, but not least, the Santa Monica mountains – I am not exaggerating when I say that those hills have saved me. When I first moved to LA, I didn’t know many people here and I had to find activities to do by myself. I started going hiking on a regular basis and found that being out in nature did something amazing to my soul. I could be having the absolute worst day, but after spending an hour or two out on the trail, it never seemed quite as bad. I call it trail therapy, and honestly, I can’t even imagine my life without it now.
I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for, so please feel free to join me on my 30 Days of Gratitude. I will be posting to Twitter (@helloashberry) and Instagram (@helloashleyberry) periodically throughout the month so join in on the conversation by tagging me and/or using the hashtag #dailygratitude30 – looking forward to getting grateful with you!