I just returned from an epic road trip with my husband and two tween sons. Twenty-four states, six national parks, 11 campgrounds and 8,000 miles later, I can confidently say that I learned some stuff. Today I want to write about gratitude and healthy habits.
Whether I was hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, watching my sons decorate my great-great grandfather’s grave in Hampton, Nebraska, or helping renovate a home damaged by tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, there were so many moments when I was just overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude. I was able to deeply experience what I know is true, but often forget – that I am truly blessed and so are we all, in our own way.
It is a lot easier to feel grateful on a fabulous family vacation than it is the rest of the time. But, I noticed that, even on that fabulous family vacation, it was the moments when I wasn’t feeling grateful that led me to make bad decisions about my health. When I was able to appreciate what I have, instead of yearning for what I wish I had, I was able to make better decisions and take care of myself better.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about yearning for better health, better relationships, and a better world, and working hard to achieve those things. But, on this trip, I saw that the starting point always needs to be deeply appreciating what we have. If I am sitting around feeling sorry for myself and feeling like my life stinks, I am much more likely to be lured by short-term gratification and less likely to stay the course that I know will keep me healthy. I don’t think I am the only one.
Let me be more specific: The second part of our trip was a wonderful week with David’s family for our nephew’s bar mitzvah in Montana. I was feeling festive. I had been feeling great and was exercising a ton on the trip, so whatever I ate would move through me quickly. No harm in a little indulgence, right? Whoops. Note to self: Never listen to my own rationalizations. My “little indulgence” turned into two days of whatever the opposite of “mindful eating” is. It included a fistful of mini kit-kats, snickers and reese’s peanut butter cups at the synagogue service; a bagel and cream cheese at the reception; and a couple of glasses of wine at family dinner the next night, among other treats.
For many people this would not be a big deal, but as I have written before, my immune system demands high octane fuel or it goes a bit haywire. While I generally eat a raw vegan diet, with no sugar, wheat, dairy or meat, it is okay with my body if I enjoy a small indulgence every now and then. But, two days of sugar, carbs, alcohol and dairy was not a small indulgence. And I knew that. So, I wasn’t surprised when I paid the consequences – I felt fatigued and had body aches and a sore throat for a few days before I finally got full-on sick with a nasty cough and wound up with laryngitis for two days of the trip.
Why did I eat all that stuff if I have seen over and over again that I wind up feeling rotten after I do? I’m not an idiot. At least, usually not. I’ll tell you why. I did it because I was not appreciating how fantastic my life is and all the gifts I have been given. If I were truly appreciating what a miracle it is that I am healthy and highly functioning after six years of illness, I wouldn’t be jeopardizing that health for a bunch of kit-kats and a couple of glasses of wine. If I were deeply connected in that moment to how much I love my sons and want to be fully present with them, I wouldn’t be drinking a glass of wine that I know can lead to decreased energy and a bad mood for days afterward, in the midst of an amazing family vacation that we had been planning for over a year.
Instead of appreciating what I have, I was feeling sorry for myself that I can’t eat sugar and drink wine like “everybody else.” (Forgetting for the moment that a lot of people can’t drink wine or eat sugar for a whole bunch of reasons.) I went for short-term gratification and lost out in the medium-term big time. I missed a hike at Yellowstone Park and could barely function for about three days of our trip.
I’m not going to beat myself up about it. We’re all human and we make mistakes. It’s hard to stay connected at all times to how lucky we are and how good we have it. But, the more we can do that, the easier it is to take care of our health and the better off we will be. Now that I have noticed this connection, I am hopeful that I can do better warding off the temptations next time.
If you can, take a moment and fill in the blank below for yourself:
If I deeply, deeply appreciated _______________________________(Fill in some good thing in your life), I wouldn’t _______________________________ (Fill in some unhealthy habit you would like to kick.)
I invite you to explore how you can connect more deeply to that thing that you would like to regularly appreciate more. It can make a huge difference in committing to your health. Here are my favorite tools for staying connected to an attitude of gratitude:
- Writing down five specific appreciations for things in your life in a journal every day and thinking about each one for at least 20 seconds to really let it sink in.
- Posting pictures of loved ones -spouse or life partner, children, grandchildren, and friends – in a prominent place.
- As much physical affection as possible. A minimum of four hugs a day is good.
- As much laughter as possible. (If you appreciate scatalogical humor, hanging out with ‘tween boys helps.)
- Listening deeply to a friend and being listened to deeply in return.
What do you think? Does this resonate with you? What can lead you to feeling less than grateful and what helps you get back on the gratitude train?
Comment below or email me. I’d love to hear your thoughts!