How A 'Grateful For What I Don't Have But Want' List Changed My Life

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My morning routine consists of taking my kids to school, getting in a workout, and being thankful for a few things I don’t have but I know are coming to me.

It sounds strange, but it’s changed my life and I’m pretty sure it will change yours. Let me explain.

When divorce was at my doorstep, I dove into every self-help book and podcast I could get my hands on.

They brought me a sense of calm during an uncertain situation. These podcasts and books all had a common theme: They teach you how powerful your thoughts are — especially thoughts of gratitude.

Over time, I started getting better at spinning my negative thoughts into tiny positive nuggets.

Instead of trying to take big bites of my future and panic about what tomorrow, next week, or next year would look like, I started being thankful for joys in life like my friends, a blue sky, and a warm shower. This shift helped a lot.

There was something mentioned over and over in these books and podcasts that I thought sounded bonkers though: Be thankful for things you don’t have, but want. This wasn’t your typical gratitude journal practice. You’re supposed to write these things down, while visualizing what your life will be like after you attain the material or non-material things and the feelings that will follow once you get them.

Honestly, I thought it was a bunch of bologna but figured if being thankful for the things I had and taking time to notice them was giving my life this much improvement, why the hell not?

The following Sunday, I wrote down how thankful I was to have made my work goal for the week. As a freelance writer, the amount I earn bounces all over the place, so I was very specific with my number. By Friday morning, I was a few hundred dollars short. I wrote down how thankful I was to have landed a job which paid $200. A few hours later after sending out some pitches, I’d made my goal.

That was almost a year ago, and I’ve done this every Sunday since, making my goal 99% of the time. I’ve also found that if I’m short one week, something happens in the following weeks to make up for it.

A week before I met my current boyfriend, I wrote down how thankful I was for him. I made a list of qualities I was looking for: they had to have kids close to my kids’ ages, funny, into BDSM, someone who feels like home and wants to blend our lives. I kept the list in my wallet and read it every morning.

That was six months ago, and I’m now in love with a man who has a teenager, makes me laugh every single day, loves my kids, and after our second date asked how I felt about being choked during sex. We are the same age, know some of the same people, grew up close together, but never met until our first date.

I’d been coveting a necklace from my favorite jewelry store that was out of my price range. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wrote it on my list as I pictured myself wearing it. I thought about putting it on layaway as I was walking through a thrift shop with my daughter.

Then, as she was looking a flannel shirts, I saw something glittery out of the corner of my eye at the register. In a tiny white box was the exact necklace I’d been drooling over. It was still a bit pricey, but I drop off clothes to consign quite a bit so I knew I had a credit with the store. I was shocked to find the credit was for the exact amount of the necklace.

After my divorce, I found myself with zero divorced women around me. I wanted nothing more than talk with someone who had been through what I was going through. It wasn’t long after I’d written that “want” down, I ran into an old high school friend who used to live next to me. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years. We started chatting and I discovered she’s been through a divorce 4 years earlier. We’ve been really close ever since.

I could go on, but these are my favorite examples. Gratitude is powerful when combined with taking steps toward your goals. (You have to do the work—keep looking for your dream job, work on the things in your relationship you want to change, go to the store and scan it for the special item—you catch my drift.) And it’s something I’ll do for the rest of my life because it’s helped me so much. Especially when life feels really hard, which it always will some days no matter how hard I visualize.

We can’t ignore the role that privilege can play in some of this, and I do realize this technique has its limitations. You can be thankful for your and your kids’ health but someone can still get sick. You can be thankful for your job and still lose it. It’s not a cure-all. But what I’ve discovered is, if there’s something something you want and you write it down, then think about how thankful you are to have it, and it can make it appear a lot faster than if you don’t. After all, you have nothing to lose.

This was my list this morning:

– I’m thankful I’m going away on a weekend with my best friend this spring.

– I’m thankful I get some extra quality time with my daughter who’s been struggling lately.

Lo and behold, my sweet daughter just asked if we could go on a Starbucks run (I was just gifted a gift certificate three days ago). Now, let’s see what else happens.

Now go make your list already.

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