The Gratitude Project


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Celebrating with food and family, enjoying beautiful fall weather, and counting our blessings.  It’s such a happy time of year. Well, usually.  4 years ago, around Thanksgiving, I found myself in quite a funk.  I’ve always been an optimist, perhaps even annoyingly so. But 4 years ago, I was postpartum with a raging case of the “baby blues.”

Everything seemed to be going wrong.  I’m not a planner by nature, but boy, had I planned my pregnancy.  I wanted a natural birth.  In the water.  With no drugs.  I had interviewed midwives and had found the perfect doula.  In the delivery room, my husband and I had slow danced through contractions, while listening to some of my favorite Chicago songs.  The rest of it is a blur, but the next thing I remember was being prepped for an emergency C-section.  Which was most definitely not a part of my plan.

This event led to a whole bunch of other things that added to my dark moods.  As with many C-section births, I had some issues with milk production.  By the time it finally came in, my 3 day-old had already developed a preference for bottles…and I resigned myself to being tethered to a pump.  In an effort to make me try harder, well-meaning friends told me how much more meaningful it was to nurse, which just led to more feelings of frustration and failure. Everywhere I looked, life seemed unfair.  I was frustrated by my lack of natural parenting inclination.  Instead of looking forward to my favorite holiday, I was embarrassed by the size of my house and the lack of entertaining space.  I was on maternity leave, and as I was recovering from a C-section, I was limited in what I could do.  Maternity leave was hard for me.  It was one of the most boring things I have ever done.  And yes, I felt guilt and frustration for that as well.  Maternity leave was lonely.  And I just wanted to go back to work.  Have adult conversations.  I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, tethered to a pump, seething that my husband went back to work after only three weeks of being home- and here I sat, bored out of my mind. Fighting the urge to call him at work to complain, I decided instead to make a list of everything that was currently depressing me.

As I mentally ran through my day, my list looked something like this.

  1. Not getting enough sleep.  Newborns are exhausting.
  2. Being stuck at home on maternity leave.  
  3. Pumping.  Ugh.

At this point, I gave up and decided to take a shower.  As I turned on the hot water, a wave of gratitude washed over me.  As a traveler, I was quite familiar with the experience of using icy cold buckets of water to bathe.  After a few of those experiences, the pure joy of running water – gloriously hot and clean, is something that I rarely took for granted.  I thought about how prior to my travels, I had never given running water much thought, and on the contrary, I found things to annoy me.  You know, things like bad water pressure.  Standing in that shower, I was determined to scrub away my bad mood.  I didn’t know if it would work, but I decided that I would find something to be joyful about each day.

I went back to my list, and decided to find joy in all the things that were depressing me.  

  1. Not getting enough sleep.  Newborns are exhausting.

There was no arguing that this was true, but I was determined to find some joy in this.  I thought about how from a different perspective, I was blessed. I had a healthy, happy newborn waking me up at night. I thought of all the wonderful friends I had who were struggling with infertility.  How they wished they had a newborn keeping them up at night.  I wrote myself a note on a piece of paper, and placed it in my daughter’s nursery.  “What a blessing to have a reason to wake up at 2 am.”  This simple reminder drastically changed my mood.

  1. Being stuck at home on maternity leave.

This was really hard for me.  I liked working.  I liked being around adults and having adult conversations. I liked going on adventures and exploring things.  Because of my C-section, I was forbidden from driving, and had difficulty lifting my daughter while she was in her car seat.  I was essentially trapped at home, at least for 8 of my 12 weeks.  I tried to find some joy in the situation.  I wandered around the house until I found a stack of books.  Some that I had read before and loved, and others that I had just never found the time to read.  Perhaps a bit unconventional, but I started reading my favorite books aloud to my infant daughter.  I read to her from “The Millionaire Mind.”  I read to her my favorite business books – from authors like Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, and Chris Guillebeau.  I read to her when she was fussy, and the words always seemed to calm her right down.  It felt ridiculously indulgent. Who has time to read books, let alone REREAD their favorites in our busy, over-scheduled lives?  Certainly not me.  At least, until now.   

  1. Pumping

Pumping was not my favorite thing.  Never having actually breastfed, I could only imagine how easy and carefree it must be.  No cleaning of parts.  No need to be tethered to an electrical outlet.  Again, I tried to find some joy in the situation.  I thought about how I could easily tell how much milk my baby was drinking.  I thought about how I could pass a bottle to anyone who wanted a turn.  How sweet it was that my baby got to bond through feedings with daddy and grandma.  By the end of all my “joyful thinking” I couldn’t remember why I was so frustrated with pumping in the first place.

Slowly my dark moods began to lift.  I decided that I was going to continue with my “shifting of perspective” for a year.  I grabbed a journal and titled it “Gratitude Project – My Year of Living Gratefully”

I continued to write things that bothered me, and with every line I wrote down, I forced myself to change my perspective.  

I wrote about how I was embarrassed to host Thanksgiving because I didn’t have a McMansion like so many of my friends.  I changed my perspective to “I am blessed to have so many family and friends that our house overflows with them.”  Later that year, when I got a flat tire on my car, and I had to waste half my day driving to the tire store, waiting around and paying to have a new tire put on, I again turned to my journal.  I wrote about how utterly lucky I was.  I had an understanding boss who was totally fine with me for being late to work. I had access to enough funds to repair my tire without putting undue stress on my finances.  I had a husband who could easily shift his schedule to pick up our daughter.

When I first started my gratitude project, it was a struggle to change my perspective and find joy in difficult situations.  It got easier.  My year long project has now turned into a 4 year project.

If you are currently in the trenches – frustrated and unhappy, exhausted and overworked – try shifting your perspective.  Trying finding a little joy in the dark situation.  I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but I AM saying it’ll be worth it.  

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Malini was born and raised in Worthington, OH. While it’s true that she has a raging case of wanderlust and takes every opportunity to travel far and wide, she and her husband can’t think of a better place to raise their 4 year old daughter and 10 year old Basenji dog, Sparky (aka - Sparks, Sparkles, Spark-a-licious, Sparkle-Pants). She works full time and spends her weekends tinkering around on a passion project that she and her husband have turned into a business. Malini’s favorite thing about Columbus is the amazing food scene - from food trucks to fine dining, Columbus has it all. Basically, she is obsessed with all things food + travel, and you can follow along with her family adventures on her blog Lakes and Lattes. She fell in love with her husband on a dance floor, and their daughter has certainly inherited daddy’s dancing genes! You can find them dancing around the kitchen, the living room, and the lawn. While it's painfully true that she has zero fashion sense, she can usually find her way around a kitchen. Her life goals include connecting with others and inspiring them to travel and eat good food!