The Gratitude Project

by Gray Cargill on May 14, 2014

Byodo-In Temple

The human mind can be the magic carpet that flies us to exotic lands. It can be the MacGyver that helps us find creative ways to solve our problems. It can change our world. But it can also sabotage us quicker than you can say “boo.”

If you still haven’t made your travel dreams come true, there may be a bigger problem than lack of money, lack of time, or fear of traveling alone. There are legitimate obstacles to travel, but any reasons you can come up with for why you can’t travel solo can usually be overcome with time and planning. The real problem may be a negative attitude that convinces you that “you can’t do it”.

Much has been written and said about why we need to avoid negative people if we want to be happy. Not only are they a downer to be around, but their moods can be contagious. If you spend too much time with a negative person, you find your own thoughts start to skew negative as well. But what if you are that negative person?

 

Cactus in the sun

Pretty? Or prickly? Depends on your attitude.

 

I’m usually a pretty positive person, but there have been times in my life when I found myself in a deep depression, unable to see past the dark cloud over my head. When everything seemed all “doom and gloom,” I was often told by optimists to “cheer up” or “stop being so negative.” I always found that very frustrating.

Changing your mood isn’t as easy as flipping a light switch to go from darkness to light in an instant. And the “fake it ’til you make it” approach just feels, well, fake. That can be even more depressing, because you’re lying to yourself and everyone around you by pretending to be positive.

 

Flowers and Wall

The optimist sees the flowers. The pessimist sees the wall.

 

Enter the Gratitude Project

Years ago, when I rode the bus to work every day, there was a guy in a wheelchair on my route. He had no legs from the thigh down and no arms from the elbow down, just prosthetics. Every time I started to feel sorry for myself for any reason, I would see him and think about how difficult it must be for him to do things the rest of us take for granted, like take a shower or get dressed or feed himself. Yet he didn’t let it stop him from going to college. He inspired me. In recent years, I’d lost that daily reminder of all I had to be grateful for.

One day on Facebook, a friend mentioned the idea of keeping a Gratitude Journal. I loved the idea. Could such a journal help me consistently focus on the positives in my life and not get caught up in the negatives?

Starting January 1, every single day for nearly a year, I wrote down at least one good thing that happened to me that day or that I was thankful for. Some trends I noticed: I had a lot to be thankful for while traveling, spending time with friends, or enjoying a great book or movie. I talked about good cups of coffee and sunny, warm days a lot in my gratitude journal. I also used a lot of exclamation points. Somehow, that made me feel really enthusiastic about what I was writing.

 

Spanish Steps

Would you be irritated by the crowds, or just grateful to be at the Spanish Steps?

 

Some days were harder than others. If something overwhelmingly negative happens, like a friend hurts your feelings or some jerk nearly runs you off the road, it’s hard not to want to write about that. But I didn’t. Instead, I forced myself to focus on something positive that happened that day. This was, after all, a Gratitude Journal, not a Rage Journal or an “Oh Woe Is Me” Journal.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that everyone has at least one thing every day they can be grateful for, even if it’s something small and simple: A good cup of coffee. A few hours of sunshine. It was payday. Your health. You found a penny in the parking lot. Whatever.

By writing down one positive thing that happens in your life each day, you force yourself to always be on the lookout for the good things that comes your way, instead of focusing on the bad things. It becomes a habit. You are basically retraining your mind to see the glass half full instead of half empty.

 

Journal

Keep a Gratitude Journal to retrain your brain

 

Why is this important?

When you are always focused on the negatives, you cannot make your dreams come true. You will always see obstacles instead of opportunities. You will sabotage yourself with all the ways you cannot do something instead of finding the ways you can make it work.

By December 1 of the year I started my journal, I realized I no longer needed to write down one positive thing each day. The Gratitude Project had served its purpose. I had internalized the habit of looking on the bright side of things. I can read depressing news articles now or acknowledge that something bad has happened–and then let it go. That doesn’t mean I never utter a negative remark. It just means that I don’t dwell on the negatives for very long—and that I’m pretty happy with my life.

 

Secret Island

Taking control of my attitude and my life.

 

What does any of this have to do with solo travel?

People who are hesitant to travel solo usually imagine worst-case scenarios that prevent them from taking the leap. That’s just your mind trying to keep you in your comfort zone and sabotage your dreams of travel. Don’t let it.

The more positive your attitude in the first place, the less likely you are to have a mind that will sabotage your dreams and happiness. Obviously, there is more work involved in achieving your solo travel goals (saving money, planning and executing a trip, etc.), but having a positive, can-do attitude is the first step to making it happen.

  • Instead of thinking “I can’t afford to travel,” a positive person will come up with a list of ways they can earn the money, save the money, or travel more cheaply.
  • Instead of freaking out about whether or not they’ll be safe traveling alone, a positive person will research the dos and don’ts of the region they’re traveling to and seek safety tips from other solo travelers.
  • The negative person might doubt their ability to travel solo. The positive person will not. (If this is something you struggle with, jot down a list of all the ways you are self-reliant in your everyday life. What are all the things you’re good at? Focus on the strong you, the competent you, the capable you.)

No, attitude is not a switch that can be flipped for instant change; but it is a habit. Given time, practice, and focus, almost anyone can learn to “look on the bright side” to be happier with life and to achieve their goals–including the goal of solo travel.

Have you tried keeping a Gratitude Journal? Has it helped you in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it–please share in the comments below!

Tracy Antonioli May 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm

I love this post. A lot. Because 1. I tried doing the whole #365grateful Instagram thing, but failed. I felt annoying (like hey world, look at my life!) but also there were days when it was hard to take a photo of the thing for which I was grateful (it often could not even be captured in words). and 2. I typically think of myself as a fairly negative person. But I’m definitely following at least suggestion 1 in your list of three great suggestions (and kind of suggestion 2–hey, I’m a work in progress!)

Tomorrow I shall go out into the world with a half-full glass. Thank you for that.

Gray Cargill May 19, 2014 at 6:01 am

I can definitely see where it would be difficult to capture gratitude in photos, Tracy. Sometimes, it’s more of an intangible thing, like a feeling. And if it’s a person, you’d have to make sure they were comfortable having their picture put up on Instagram. The journal is completely private and definitely easier. Good luck with the half full glass!

Maria Falvey May 15, 2014 at 12:50 am

Gray you hit the nail on the head – train yourself to see small positive things daily and you become unstoppable. Not always easy. I find that often, those around me are negative without realizing they are. They think they’re being helpful, warning me against danger or telling me “how things work” here, there or somewhere else – in reality they’re projecting their negative experiences, regrets, worries onto me. Best I can do is to shake them off, find something positive to focus on and plod ahead, soon afterward I’m not plodding, I’m sprinting ahead.

Gray Cargill May 17, 2014 at 9:41 am

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, Maria, but the end results are definitely worth it. I like that image of you “sprinting ahead”. 🙂

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren May 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

“When you are always focused on the negatives, you cannot make your dreams come true. You will always see obstacles instead of opportunities. You will sabotage yourself with all the ways you cannot do something instead of finding the ways you can make it work.” Ugh. This is me, I’m afraid. I will definitely start a gratitude journal of my own. This is such a great idea. Thank you for sharing!

Happy travels 🙂

Gray Cargill May 14, 2014 at 6:59 pm

You know what they say, Lauren: The first step toward turning things around is acknowledging there’s a problem. I think you should start a gratitude journal. And I hope it helps you as much as it did me. Happy travels to you too!

Kate Convissor May 14, 2014 at 11:20 am

Thanks, Gray. We all need a kick in the pants sometimes, no matter how positive we may be. What’s interesting to me is that you actually KEPT a Gratitude Journal for a year. A grateful attitude takes some cultivation. Thanks for sharing the fruit of that reflection.

As I plan for my next solo trip, I’m both acknowledging to myself that, yes, it makes me feel queasy, but that I’m going to do it anyway, and thatd it will be great.

Gray Cargill May 14, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Kate. We all feel that queasy feeling once in awhile, but if you can plow through it and get to the other side, it’s all worth it. Cheers to you!

lee May 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

what a great idea, thanks for the suggestion.
perhaps we all ‘turn a corner’ at some point. when i found myself feeling strange everyday and wondering if i were ill, i realized i was FINALLY happy. Happy to have left a job i really may have hated. Happy to not have peers tell me what i ‘cant do’.

so i am not ill, this strange feeling is ‘happy’. and the few days i start off without this feeling, i stop and try to figure out why.

and dont feel guilty that YOU have it all and others cant see the best of life….

Gray Cargill May 14, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Oh wow, Lee, that is amazing–finally realizing what “happy” feels like. Once you know, you never want to go back….

Teresa May 14, 2014 at 10:57 am

GREAT post Gray! As a glass OVERFLOWING kind of gal, I always try and put myself in other peoples shoes- Especially those whose glass is eternally empty. The fact that I am in the midst of menopause (and my hormones don’t fluctuate daily–more like one week a month), I can REALLY feel their pain now–lol! All your tips are spot on 🙂 We all need to cut ourselves some slack when we have our down days and remember there is always a sunny side of the street! Sometimes we’re just in such a funk we can’t cross the road like a good chicken 🙂

Gray Cargill May 14, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I’m glad I got your “glass overflowing” seal of approval, Teresa! 🙂 I’m sure you never had to keep a gratitude journal.

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