A few weeks ago, I found myself grumbling about cleaning the house. As I loaded up my arms with spray bottles and towels, I felt my body heavy with dread, shuffling to the kitchen to get started. I could feel my irritation starting to spread. So I stopped. And I took a mindful breath. And I practiced gratitude. I reminded myself that just five years ago, I was so eager to become a home owner. I so badly wanted a home that Matt and I could make our own, and we scrimped and saved together to make it happen. Yet here I was, complaining about the very thing I had wanted for so long. The irony of my annoyance was too big to ignore.
How often do we find ourselves complaining about a situation that for a long time, we desperately wanted? How frequently do we grumble about something, completely dismissing the positive parts of a situation? When we do this, we lose perspective. Any joy is instantly sucked out. The key in these moments is to stop and practice gratitude. Remind yourself not just of the positive, but if possible, how at one point in your life, you wanted this (or part of this) very scenario.
Let’s look at a few examples for how to practice gratitude when you’re annoyed.
When you’re annoyed about cleaning your kitchen:
As much as I don’t feel like cleaning right now, I remember how much I wanted this home because of the awesome location and cute charm. I’m grateful I have this home to clean.
When you’re irritated about being stuck in morning traffic:
This traffic is annoying, but I can remember worrying I wouldn’t find a job that I enjoyed. I’m in this traffic because I’m on my way to a job that I enjoy, so for that, I’m grateful to be sitting in this traffic.
When your kids are screaming in the backseat:
This moment is not enjoyable, yet I remember how badly I wanted to be a mom, so I am going to practice gratitude for those little terrors in the backseat.
When you’re annoyed at having to do yet another load of laundry:
Remember when we lived in that tiny, not so nice apartment many years ago, and we had to haul our laundry through the parking lot, down the road, and through the swimming pool area?(Sidenote: this example is straight from Matt and my first year of marriage lol.) As annoying as doing laundry is, I’m so grateful to have a washer and dryer in our home. It makes this more bearable.
It’s important to note that practicing gratitude isn’t about minimizing the difficulty of a moment. It’s not about saying, “Well you wanted this years ago, and now you have it, so quit complaining.” Not at all. Gratitude asks us to look closely for the good, even when it seems small. Practicing gratitude when you’re annoyed puts things into perspective. This is particularly true when the thing you are complaining about is in some way, shape, or form something you previously wished for. It’s also important to note, your tone of voice in these moments matters. Take a gentle and encouraging tone with yourself, not a harsh and critical one. Gratitude is about encouraging and highlighting, not minimizing and punishing.
Last week, I got a renewal notice for my professional liability insurance. I groaned, thinking about the hefty check I would have to write, and I started to complain about it. But then I stopped. I thought back to graduate school and how frequently I wished to be a clinical psychologist. I thought back to my residency, and the sense of desperation to be done with school and practicing on my own. Ten years ago that was just a dream, and now I’m living it. The hefty check I was about the write? I was only able to write that because I’m doing the very thing I wished for so long to do.
So I took a breath, and I practiced gratitude. As painful as it is to write this check, I’m writing it because I’m a licensed psychologist, something I dreamed of for many years. I’m grateful to be writing this check, because it means I’m doing the thing I wished for so long to do.
Practicing gratitude when you’re annoyed isn’t always easy or fun, but it’s important. It changes your perspective and softens your annoyance. It prompts you to think differently about your irritations, dissolving some of your frustration.
Do you practice gratitude when you’re annoyed? What annoyance or irritation can you choose to practice gratitude with right now?
PS: Want more info about how to develop a gratitude practice? Check out this super helpful post!