I’ve tried the whole “30 days of gratitude” thing on Facebook a couple of times. The goal: Write one Facebook post that focuses on what you’re grateful for, every day, for the entire month (any month will do, but November seems ripe for gratitude—it’s Thanksgiving season, after all). The aim? To feel grateful—really feel it—and maybe see beyond the day-to-day frustrations to the genuinely good stuff that’s there, but harder to notice.
Honestly, I wasn’t very good at it. I was out of practice with being grateful. I was undisciplined. And I felt awkward about looking for the half-full glass in such a public forum. Choosing what to mention inevitably means choosing not to mention other things, and I got hung up on wondering how to not hurt anyone’s feelings.
Even so, it was worth the effort. I noticed myself becoming more attuned to the good things in life. The act of “writing” gratitude posts in my head as I went through my days changed the way I thought.
And that, says women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup, makes all the difference.
Christiane, a best-selling author in the women’s health genre, built her publishing success on the foundation of her medical practice. For 25 years, she was a practicing OB/GYN (first out of South Portland, then Yarmouth), delivering babies rather than books. Now, as she prepares to release her seventh title, “Making Life Easy: A Simple Guide to a Divinely Inspired Life,” she’s wrapping up a full year of gratitude video blogging. The project, she says, has developed her capacity to see beauty and grace in everyday life.
Christiane happened to read about a woman who took a photo every day for a year, journaled with the images, and came to see her life—specifically, her marriage—in more positive ways. The story resonated with Christiane as she strolled through Yarmouth’s Spear Farm this past New Year’s Day. Spontaneously, she shot a video, got on Instagram and announced that 2016 was going to be the year of her #366grateful daily vlog (366 because it happens to be a leap year).
“I did the first day post and the second day, and then I panicked. What if I ran out of things to be grateful for?” she says. “Thankfully, it turns out that there are more things to be grateful for than I’d ever have space for.”
“It’s a discipline to do this,” says Christiane. “As you go around during the day you begin to look for what is beautiful and what is working, and it changes the brain. Neurons that fire together wire together.”
This idea is central to “Making Life Easy,” which will be released in December. “This book is my way of coming out of the closet about all the things I’ve always believed,” Christiane says, elaborating on the power of positivity, gratitude and visualization. In other words, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. See life as something worth celebrating, and that’s what you get. “If you think nothing is meaningful and you’re being acted upon by forces outside your control,” she says, “then life is a booze cruise and there’s a storm.”
Christiane has been through some storms herself—like getting divorced just as she was preparing to send her daughters, Kate and Annie, off to college. She says she got entangled in “lies”—that the best years of her life were behind her or that no man would love her again.
As she disentangled herself from those untruths, she learned to tango. Not the figurative two steps forward and one step back—she literally learned to tango. In fact, southern Maine’s tango community—dancers who meet at Maine Ballroom Dance and Mayo Street Arts in Portland—has made more than one appearance on #366grateful.
Christiane’s 1-year-old granddaughter Penelope has made it into #366grateful a few times, too—five, Christiane specifies, without needing to count. “You don’t realize how enchanting grandchildren are until you have one,” she says.
Christiane, who published “Goddesses Never Age” last year, quips that she has a biologic age of 35 and a wisdom age of 300. Her own mother, who is now 90, climbed to the Mount Everest base camp at age 84. It might appear that agelessness runs in the family and the rest of us are out of luck. But no, Christiane says, aging gracefully is largely about the power of perception. “I’ve seen a lot of old 40-year-olds and a lot of young 80-year-olds.”
When she hears someone complain about being old, she says, “You see the problem? Your cells actually believe that!”
The reverse is true, too, Christiane says: Count your blessings. Train your brain to notice them. Share them. And you will feel more blessed.
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough.