How do I learn to Grab This Day by the Neck and Kiss it?
February 17, 2013 5:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I move towards starting each day feeling grateful for the day and eager to get out and embrace the day (instead of wanting to burrow further under the covers and hope the day just passes me by, day after fucking day)? I know that on my death bed, be it tomorrow or 50 years from now, I will *profoundly* regret a life wasted feeling sorry for myself. I know that, and yet I can't stop feeling sorry for myself.

Objectively, I understand that most (any?) problems I might have are first-world problems; I'm a tall white male born into the middle class.
• I don't make much money, but I know there are folks who are really genuinely living pay check to pay check, and even more who are for reals homeless.
• My wife and I have our squabbles, but I know we love each other, and that she would probably step in front of a truck to protect me.
• I had some terrible stuff happen to me as a child, but I lived through it; I got the chance to make my life whatever I want in spite of that terrible experience.
• I lost all my possessions in a house fire not too long ago, but I wasn't (physically) hurt; again, I got to carry on.
• I have a dear uncle, halfway across the world, who I am in told is in very ill health. Terminal. I think of him often, and thank the universe for my good health.
So, I should be grateful for all of this, and I guess on some level, I am grateful. But I can't believe this is what people are talking about when they say "be grateful for every day".

I tried Naikan (a kind of Gratitude Journal) for a little more than six months, but I quit over a year ago because I couldn't see the point. Every day (well, almost) I faithfully wrote down my three or more things that I was grateful for that day (and if appropriate, shared them with my wife), and then… nothing. I don't know but I guess it "didn't take." Maybe I was "doing it wrong"?

I see a movie, or a video like this, or read an article that tells a life-and-death story, that crystallises the value of life. And the thought flits through my brain: "you've got to pull yourself up! Snap out of it!" …And then it's gone. Or even if it isn't, even if it sticks for a few hours or a day, it *always* dissipates! How do I cultivate this so that the feeling I have when I watch the video or read the thing lasts all day or all week (or just until tomorrow morning, even)? What is the next step? I count myself as lucky/grateful/fortunate to such-and-such; then?

Me: Life sucks. I suck. boo. hiss.
Someone: You must value every day as though it were the only day you had to live.
Me: Yeah, you're absolutely right, but still, boo. hiss.

I combed through these other questions that relate to gratitude: link1link2link3link4 but I guess they weren't as helpful as I'd hoped (see, there I go again!). This one [link5] was a little closer, but somehow still doesn't feel concrete enough (?). What I mean is "start a gratitude journal" or "give meaningful thoughts of thanks before each meal" or that kind of advice, while much appreciated, is not what I'm looking for.

Am I just a lazy ingrate? Am I somehow fooling myself to think I've tried being grateful and it didn't work, when in fact I never really tried? How does one "really try?"

Some snowflake stuff:
• I tend to vacillate between Athiesm and Agnosticism. Religious stuff rubs me the wrong way. Spiritual stuff, much less so.
• I have a long history of depression/dysthymia; I've been on and off medication for 20 years, currently *on*, for close to two years. I'm MUCH better than I was *off*, but still wonder if I'm on the right dose; my doctor's base position is "wait and see".
• I believe that on a daily basis I am very clear in my expression(s) of gratitude to those around me for things they do or have done for me, especially my wife.

Question title explained (?) here.
posted by segatakai to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
You're on the right track with gratitude. There's a meme /idea "first world problems," and you seem to understand that.

I'm not a shrink, I'm not your shrink. Here are some suggestions I would make if you were the bloke nursing a pint next to me:

- get out of bed in the morning and get moving, even if there's no place to be. I'm convinced half the depressive thinking occurs because of depressed blood sugar levels.
- read some of the religious/spiritual literature. Even if you only view it as "wisdom literature," there be some wisdom there. You might be surprised how little the best of it focuses on the afterlife. I'm talking Thomas Merton here, not Joel Osteen.
- stay busy. Do more around e house, work harder at your job, find a hobby, or find some way to volunteer. That last one really can further open your eyes to how lucky one is.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, please stop "piling on" yourself. What I mean by that is to stop listing and lumping all your problems together. That is a sure way to make yourself not want to get up in the morning! Each thing is its own thing. You can't pile on yourself like that - no one can get over that much all at once! You've been through some rough stuff, but some of that is just bad luck and some is history that you've gotten over and some are current problems. Give yourself a mental merit badge for getting through the past stuff, and let go of it. Deal with the things that you can do something about now.

Second, stop with the "first world problem" stuff. Doesn't matter what world you live in, they are your problems and you are allowed to have them. Everyone has their own bucket of shit that they have to carry around in life. Just because you were lucky to be born where you were doesn't mean that you're not allowed to have problems.

Third, check out this article about how counting your blessings isn't as helpful as you'd think.

Good luck to you.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a lot to unpack here.

I would urge you to think of your self-development as a life-long journey, rather than a destination. For better or worse, we have established a society of destinations. Demarcation points that indicate position. Four years of college, and then a diploma. A few years of dating and then marriage. Whilst those are functionally useful guideposts – especially for comparison with others – that is not inherently how the mind operates. The mind operates singularly in the present. Both the past and the future are illusionary. We have created massive structures to make both real, however the reality is that they are not. Thus, you really already have the answer to your question. The way to have a happy 50 years is really to have 18,000 great days. There's no magic to it really. Each moment is your life. Or as Eckart Tolle says... go to a cemetery and look at the tombstones. Everything fits into a half-inch dash between the years. Tens of thousands of days = a dash. You can't take it with you, and at some point, it's going to be your time. So really, all you have are the moments that make up each day.

A few other comments:

Depression is a major theme and cannot be ignored: wanting to burrow further under the covers and hope the day just passes me by. Depression physically rewires your brain, and probably, you will always be at risk of depression. You know that and you're medicated for it. That is a boundary in your life probably. You must take care to maintain your mental health as someone with diabetes watches their insulin intake. It's not fair, and it's not fun. But some people were born with much worse. Don't fight it. Don't talk about it. It doesn't define you. It's not a big deal. Just as some people can't eat peanuts and have to watch their meals, you have to be aware of your triggers. That's it.

The other thing that leaps out is ambivalence.
I don't make much money, but I know there are folks who are really genuinely living pay check to pay check
My wife and I have our squabbles, but I know we love each other
I had some terrible stuff happen to me as a child, but I lived through it
I lost all my possessions in a house fire not too long ago, but I wasn't (physically) hurt;
I tend to vacillate

There's an odd pattern here, which is you seem to be clipping your emotional responses, and not really entertaining how you really feel. Other people's poor financial situations do not matter if you are stressed about money. All couples squabble. It's okay just to love your wife. No but needed.

As far as the childhood stuff, it's sucks. It was a bad deal. Lots of people have had shit childhoods, lots of people haven't. Other people's childhood's are not your childhood. Your childhood had some trying times. That's okay. You don't need to make that into anything. It's okay for it to have been tough. It doesn't need to be better than anything. You don't need to feel lucky that it's better now. It was what it was. And now it's gone. You can be angry about it. You can be sad about it. You can feel however you want to about it. It's best not to let it define you, but you can certainly have an opinion on it.

As far as the house fire, that sucks too. It's okay to be angry about that. Sure, you got to go on. That's a Good Thing, but at the same time, you lost all of your stuff and that's shitty. It's okay for it to be shitty. You don't need anyone's permission to feel a certain way.

Overall, what I read is a general malaise in terms of identifying with your emotions. Not to be rude, but your whole post is a bit wishy-washy. Some stuff happened. It wasn't great. But I'm okay. Some other stuff happened. A lot of people are worse off. But I'm okay.

Your root problem is that you are okay. You are not great. You are okay. You are constantly okay. And maybe you're afraid of being okay forever. When obviously something is kicking up within you that wants more.

Am I just a lazy ingrate?

That probably the depression talking. Ignore that noise.

Am I somehow fooling myself to think I've tried being grateful and it didn't work, when in fact I never really tried? How does one "really try?"

You don't try. Nothing happens until you change your behaviour. So change your behaviour. It doesn't matter what it is, but make sure you feel it and believe in it. If you want to make more money, go make more money. Show up early. Get a new job. Do something.

Vocalise your emotions. It sucks to have had a bad childhood. Just accept that it was shitty. Say it aloud. Let your emotions be your emotions. Vocalise them. Don't become them or get hung up on it, but allow yourself to feel how you really feel.

That is important, for you cannot have the upside without the downside. Right now, you seem to be keeping your emotions within a carefully calibrated middle state. Not too great, not too terrible. Bad stuff wasn't that bad. Good stuff isn't that good. Thus, your life.

How do you fix it? The bad stuff was shit. It was bad. The good stuff is great. You really enjoy it and want more of it.

The summary seems to be that you need to take strong views on what you want and do not want. And that can start by taking strong views on what's happened and being done with it. Shitty childhood. Shitty fire. Great wife. Good health. Good, strong job.

Then what do you want? More money? More stuff? More holiday? To write a book? It's all there for you, but you have to choose it actively with a confident voice. Right now, I wonder if your mind isn't clouded with both emotions. Maybe you're waiting for the right one to emerge and in the meantime entertaining both. The right one is not going to emerge. You simply choose it.
posted by nickrussell at 6:08 AM on February 17, 2013 [19 favorites]

Been there, oh wait, still in my bathrobe so still a bit there. So I'll add "get dressed" when you get up to the advice chain.

Do one tiny thing, and remember that there are many that can't get that far. Then the next. Break down problems keep at it, and give yourself credit for just keeping going.

Remember a moment that was just great, sunset, spring morning, and know that it'll happen again, maybe when you least expect it but great happens.
posted by sammyo at 6:09 AM on February 17, 2013

You don't need to play head-games with yourself about feeling grateful for random happening. The universe doesn't care if you appreciate it. :)

You need something to do. A hobby. A time-sink.

What do you enjoy doing, that you might take some pride in learning to do it better (or just doing it for its own sake regardless of "progress")? Traditionally, "tall white male born into the middle class" folks often take up woodworking. Me, I hike.

Your concern about coming off as having "first world problems" doesn't help your situation - Yes, we first worlders have the luxury and curse of having too damned much free time. But that framing of the problem also presents its own solution - Just find a way to have less free time, and you'll automatically start appreciating it more.
posted by pla at 6:20 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's an odd pattern here, which is you seem to be clipping your emotional responses, and not really entertaining how you really feel.

Yes! The house fire stopped me in my reading. That is a really graphic, scary thing to happen.

I see a movie, or a video like this, or read an article that tells a life-and-death story, that crystallises the value of life.

There are stories like that going on in your own life, currently. It seems like you sell yourself short. Maybe you have an internalized parental figure of the kind that goes, "Think about people with REAL problems." That's useful, in a way; it's good not to dwell on your problems to the exclusion of everyone else's. But some of these experiences of yours sound really interesting, even if bad in some ways. Your house burned down. Your family is geographically separated. Things happened in your childhood. Maybe explore these, not in terms of negatives you have to downplay or get rid of, but in terms of how they inform your life and even (in some cases) make it richer. (E.g. what did you learn from your house burning down?)
posted by BibiRose at 6:21 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think what you should do is stop trying to value each day as if it were the last day you had to live. First of all, that's a high bar to clear and sets you up for failure. Second of all, I think it feeds into your habit of trying to view your life from the point of view of your dead or nearly dead self.

Look at yourself now -- you know what you don't mention? Regrets and recriminations about the things you did, or didn't do, in the past. Did you waste your life so far? No -- you found a spouse who loves you and whom you love, you addressed and massively ameliorated a serious mental health problem instead of letting it slide. You're worried that your future self will see things very differently, but why would he? On the contrary, it's very likely that when you lie on your deathbed you'll also be more or less fine with what you see in the rearview mirror.

So stop trying to live each day as if it's your last, because it's probably not. And because you don't really have any idea what your future almost-dead self will think of your life,
posted by escabeche at 6:32 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

You have an inner conflict. Boo-hiss vs. Gratitude. You need to stop fighting this war, not rooting for one side or the other. The Gratitude side is very judgmental and has no real compassion for the Boo-hisser, and the Boo-hisser hates himself and hates himself for hating himself. People don't embrace the world because someone whom they see as superior tells them to do so. The feeling that the world sucks is a legitimate feeling and isn't to be banished. I'd suggest therapy.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:36 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

stop trying to live each day as if it's your last, because it's probably not.

Yeah, totally agree here. It's too dramatic. What most people would do on the last day is nowhere near what they would do on a normal day.
posted by nickrussell at 6:37 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi! You sound like me. I had a shitty childhood where I basically raised myself and met my own emotional needs. It resulted in a very independent, resilient adult who had no idea that FEELING an emotion was different from thinking about it. I spent years dismissing my own emotions as irrelevant to a situation because other people might have had it worse and I just needed to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep going, etc.

It wasn't until I had a major depressive crash and got into therapy that I realized I had never deal with any of my emotions, ever. I had never felt the hurt and anger and pain of being left to raise myself. When things happened to me in my life, I never stopped to let myself feel hurt or sad or angry about them.

My therapist helped me work through all of the negative stuff I had never dealt with. It wasn't fun to relive it, but that crap was stopping me from fully feeling joy and happiness, and actually moving on from what happened to me.

I highly recommend talking to a professional about this stuff. I am so much happier and more in touch with my life for it.
posted by zug at 7:03 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are a few things that may help. First of all, are you exercising regularly? I find that when I am exercising 3-4 times a week, my whole outlook on life is much better, even in totally unrelated things.

The book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" may be a good read for you. It talks about changing your self in order to be a better and more effective person, and many of the ideas within it are the types of things that make you notice and appreciate things more (or at least feel like you are more in control of your life, which helps for the better)

Do you do any volunteer work? Generally, the people I know who are most grateful for what they have are people who spend time trying to help others. If you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or homeless shelter, or food bank, that may help. You'll get a little perspective on how your life is a lot better than it could be, as well as the satisfaction of knowing you're helping others.
posted by markblasco at 7:37 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The hobby suggestion above kind of gets at something: What do you like to do? And a lesser but related question: What are you good at? (Don't give me the easy answer: "Nothing...") If you have free time, I would say you should try to pursue something for its own sake—a hobby, volunteering—even if you aren't the best at that thing in the world. It sounds like you need something in your life besides work, wife, and family, something to get involved in and look forward to doing—something that doesn't intrinsically make or break your life or you as a person, but that gives you something to dwell upon other than the circumstances you find yourself in. I think you need something to get lost in, at least for a little while on any given day or in any given week. And that something could even help you feel a small sense of accomplishment.
posted by limeonaire at 7:42 AM on February 17, 2013

This sounds to me, also, like textbook depression. If you're not ready to work on this again, or you can't do so soon for logistical reasons, let me recommend (for starters) the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

I have had to work on and off on my depression, and the "off" periods were times that I thought I had already addressed the depression issue and therefore any further sadness was my fault entirely. The time I regret wasting is the time that I didn't go back in and get that sorted out.

I wanted to address something, though. "Grab This Day by the Neck and Kiss It?" No one feels that way in the morning. Thich Nhat Hanh does not wake up feeling that way in the morning. To paraphrase -- mornings are suffering, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something. You are allowed to feel disgruntled and low about things. You are allowed, in fact, to feel any way you want. What you do about it is a separate matter entirely.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:44 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

The whole "first world problems" thing is often funny at first, but it can easily become a trap. Just because you don't live in a famine-ravished country ruled by warlords doesn't mean you aren't justified to feel pain related to what you go through. Everyone's experience is their own and relative to the life they've lived. There are people who would appear to be objectively much worse off than you who are less depressed than you are. You know?

I tend to be my own worst enemy, too. Had the whole rough childhood thing, learned to be independent and self-sufficient, generally feel rather separated and alienated from the world. I think of it as my own fault and am often getting down on myself about it, and none of that helps.

The only thing that works for me is thinking less and doing more. Exercising works, playing a musical instrument works, going to some kind of low-key event works, volunteering works. But I try to frame volunteering not as a way to remind me of how much more I have than some other people, which I already am aware of and adds to the guilt of not living my life to the fullest. It's a way to get me out there helping people and feeling like I'm making a positive difference, and the result is that I don't feel so crappy.
posted by wondermouse at 7:44 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You seem to put a lot of pressure on yourself to feel awesome. It's okay to feel sorry for yourself now and then, regardless of whether someone else just had an anvil fall on their head. You still get to feel deprived or annoyed or beaten up or depressed now and then without comparing yourself to anyone else or thinking about how you're wasting the delights of the day by not sitting there with butterflies landing on your head.

If I felt like I had to grab this day by the neck and kiss it, I'd probably be pretty depressed. I have PMS and I'm sick of February. I don't have any good reason to not be leaping gazelle-like through the pure awesomeness of the day, but I don't care. I'm kind of crabby and I don't have a good reason for it.

If you think you're depressed, then get some support and some treatment or whatever, but at least stop beating yourself up about your failure to burn with the universe's delights all the time.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have had a really tough time -- the housefire alone is plenty! -- and IT IS OKAY to feel sad, angry, miserable, numb, frustrated, dissatisfied, whatever. You don't have to walk around saying, "A shitty thing happened to me, but other people have it worse, so I will be grateful." You can just say, "A shitty thing happened to me AND I AM PISSED ABOUT IT." It's great to have perspective and realize that shitty things aren't the end of the world, but it's also really important to let yourself mourn the bad things in life as well as celebrate the good. I know there's this strain of thought of "other people have it worse" and "be grateful for what you have" and "the universe rewards happy people and punishes bad people" in modern western culture that dominates our discussion of bad things, but it's okay to feel bad!

I'm glad you're seeing a doctor because a lot of this does sound like depression. But even for people who aren't depressed, sometimes when you go through profoundly difficult things -- a house fire, a terminal illness in the family -- all you can do is keep getting out of bed and stumbling through your day for a while until your spirit has a chance to heal. When my beloved uncle died I was so ANGRY -- I was angry at God, I was angry at mortality, I was angry at MY UNCLE. And it took me quite a while to get past being just absolutely filled with rage about it before I could even mourn. And then I had to mourn for a while before I could get to the place where I now just miss him and feel blessed for all the time we had together. But I think back to the first few months after he died and I just had this white-hot fury, an absolutely overwhelming rage that pushed out all my other feelings about him, and I had no idea where that even came from, and I'm not really an angry person, and it went on for weeks and weeks. Looking back, I now know that was part of the process of grieving and the only way out was through, and I'm really glad the people I told about it didn't tell me to "be grateful for his life" or "count your blessings" but said, "I understand why you feel that way" or "It's so shitty that he died" or "Do you want some ice cream?"

Also, as a practical matter, I'm a pretty cheerful person who feels pretty grateful for my life, but I never, ever, ever get out of bed feeling excited about the day. Because I HATE WAKING UP and the first couple hours I'm awake I just want to stab everything. If I were going to engage in some kind of ritual (gratitude journal, church, yoga, whatever) to make me feel better about the world, it would have to be at like 10 a.m.

Gratitude journals mostly stress me out, they don't make me grateful. They make me resentful. But reading a good book before bed -- just something I enjoy, not something particularly inspirational -- tends to make me feel good about the world. Also going for walks where there are trees. Also shopping at Target because, lo, I am shallow. But all those nicely organized aisles of stuff! So soothing!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

So did you spend that traumatic childhood of yours in a family where Negative Emotions Were Forbidden, and everyone was expected to be Totally Fine?

(Or, conversely, did you spend it around people who expressed their feelings in such a shitty and violent way that you couldn't help but conclude that negative emotions ought to be forbidden?)

Because it sounds like you've internalized pretty hard this idea that bad feelings are not okay, and it might be helpful to think about where you picked it up.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I constantly feel grumpy that I don't want to jump out of the bed in the morning in a rush to embrace the day.

At first, I reorganized so many things in my life to fix this....moving to a warmer climate, finding a great partner, a fun job, good people around me, moved my parents near me, bought exercise equipment for the house, and favorite food for breakfast. I tried to remove every 'barrier' to getting out of bed: that I was cold, things were disorganized, there was nothing to get excited and up out of bed for, etc. And you know what? Pretty much every morning, when I wake up, a wave of anxious thoughts greet me, and of all the things I haven't done, no matter how serious or benign: 'my dad's been sick' hits me as hard 'my flashlight died, I need new batteries', all the things either entirely out of my control or tasks on my to do list. And I feel like, 'great, I'm awake for 3 minutes and I've already failed because I'm still not feeling like I want to jump out of bed'. And I watch my husband pop out of bed, and listen to my mom tell me that she and my dad have adopted Michelle Obama's sleep schedule and are up between 4:30-5:00am.

And one day I was reading something by Pema Chodron somewhere - maybe on a plane in a magazine? - because for heaven's sake, the woman has dedicated her life to buddhism, and read about her talking about her experience: that when she wakes up, a wave of anxious thoughts wash over her most mornings, and when she sits down to meditate after all these years she still feels kind of fidgety when she first sits. And it finally hit me that I might be conceptualising this experience incorrectly.

So I've decided to reframe my experience. I've put Rumi's poem Guest House near my bed, and every day I wake up I decide again to accept that a wave of anxiety is going to wash for me for about ten minutes. I accept that it's happening because it seems to be happening whether I accept it or not. So why make it harder by getting down on myself? I've also noticed that even though I feel less than grateful than I think I should, there are also other things I feel. I feel happy that my husband's around, and neutral about other things. There's actually a lot going on.

So it's less 'grab life by the neck!' and it is more noticing that what I actually am doing when I say that I need to feel more grafeful, and remind myself that I can withstand the feeling of what I am feeling. When my dad is sick, and I'm not, I try not to focus on the fact that I should be grateful I'm well, but how I feel about him being sick. The answer: pretty sad and worried and scared for him. A little guilty that I'm not in his presence more. And then I try to accept that and realize that in thirty minutes I'll probably feel some other thought intensely.

Feel, but don't ruminate. Accept, but note when I mull. And when I do get stuck on some difficult feeling, rather than try to banish it, consider that this is my body and mind's best way of trying to tell me that there is something going on for me, and try to be curious about that that is, without trying to force an answer before it is time. I find this ridiculously hard to do regularly, particularly when I haven't had enough sleep or am under stress.

But when I practice this, I don't so much feel I am 'grabbing the day by the neck' but I do feel a surprising sense of calm throughout each day. I can withstand, experience and enjoy all the emotional weather patterns that pass through my day, even the unpleasant intense ones. And joy doesn't come for focusing on grabbing the day outside of me, but from trying to stay present with the day happening inside of me, including what ever feeling I truly am feeling, and noticing the gap between that and the way I wish I felt.(which is usually a sense that with all that I have I should feel more exuberant).

Good luck on your path, you certainly aren't alone.
posted by anitanita at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

It would be great if there were some big answer to your question. Most of what you see in the self-help department are single answers that are supposed to change your life. If you look at who we are as human beings, we are stacks of behavior, virtual reality, and millions of years of evolution all crammed into one biological package. No wonder it gets a little crowded in there. It might help to start breaking down the different aspects of your well-being and begin working on improving each of them in its own terms rather than lumping your life all together under 'it sucks.'
In typing out this post, I feel a little better than when I started reading the thread. I'm helping another person (maybe), might get a favorite or two, and get to explicate thoughts I'm having on this subject. So, it's a kind of win. I get a dose of happiness chemical in my brain and things look a bit more upbeat. If you solve enough of these little puzzles, your life improves and you feel better overall. By puzzles I mean ways to improve the function of a component of your life that may be depressing your mood. There's the physical component of your body, the cognitive aspect of your thoughts, the environment you create and so forth. Don't try to solve the whole thing, just work on the bit you can improve.
posted by diode at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

A coupe of things that have helped me in the last couple of weeks were to have an intention for the day. Usually I choose "kick ass" as my intention. And then throughout the day, when I'm tempted to ignore my to do list, I remind myself that I wouldn't be kicking ass if I didn start getting some shit done.

The optional helper to this is keeping a list titled, "Ways in Which I Kick Ass Today". It's a nice reminder that I am getting things done and making progress.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2013

A verse I try to repeat to myself when my morning is difficult:

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
And look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

"Reciting this gatha can give us energy to live the day well. Twenty-four hours are a treasure-chest of jewels. If we waste these hours, we waste our life. The practice is to smile as soon as we wake up, recognizing this day is an opportunity for practicing. It is up to us not to waste it. When we look at all beings with eyes of love and compassion we feel wonderful. with the energy of mindfulness, washing dishes, sweeping the floor, or practicing sitting or walking meditation are all the more precious."

-The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh
posted by sharkfu at 11:35 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not unusual or ungrateful to get used to the status quo, so don't beat yourself up about it. If you don't want to, and you'd prefer to look at things through new eyes every day, you have two options: you can try to change your outlook and way of thinking, or you can introduce various small changes to your life so that the status quo is never entirely stationary.

About changing your outlook: Obviously I'm not going to recommend Bible study because you're not religious, but I think people get a lot of satisfaction out of it partly because it forces them to think in detail about big, idealistic stuff on a weekly basis. So is there anything you could do that would force you to do that? Maybe a philosophy class?

Do more new things. Take a class that teaches you how to do something you can continue afterwards. It's not so much what you do as the fact that it's new and lets you see yourself in a new light.

Also, a lot of this is affected way more than you think by your physical state. An hour of intense exercise, or a really good meal, can change your outlook on the rest of your life more than pretty much any words you could tell yourself. So pay attention to that stuff.
posted by ostro at 4:18 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like I kind of booby-trapped my own question. The fire was 8 years ago, and the shitty childhood events were almost 40 years ago; the wanting to wake up each day as if it was my last was more of a metaphor for wanting to be (or even move towards being) more invested in life and positive about my day-to-day circumstances than a strictly literal 'tomorrow I want to bounce out of bed'. All of that having been said, I appreciate the advice to go a little easier on myself (even if it was 40 years ago) and will try to take it to heart.

A lot of you have suggested that I allow myself to have bad feelings, or even feelings of any kind without clipping, as nickrussell suggests. I do believe that it's perfectly reasonable to be upset at having lost my possessions, etc; it probably would have been better to list more mundane things like breaking a shoelace or forgetting my umbrella. Further, it wasn't (/isn't) my intention to disallow myself from feeling bad about things in my life, as much as to try to *prove* to all of you (and myself?) that I really am grateful for ABC, even though there's abc to deal with.

I guess as I read over everyone's advice, I realise that perhaps a good bit of this lies in still being depressed, and there's still a ways for me to go in that regard (even in as much as I have improved); you've helped me to see that there is probably a connection of some kind between my depression and a kind of dampening of all emotion. I guess I need to have a heart to heart with my doctor, and optimally make another attempt at finding therapy options. I guess I've known for a long time that I need to exercise more, hobby more, and interact with human beings more; I will make a concerted effort to move in that direction.

Thanks very much to all for your responses.
(I don't mean for this to be the end of this thread; I continue to be open to any thoughts (or additional thoughts) anyone has on the matter.)
posted by segatakai at 12:51 AM on February 18, 2013

Depression is tough. Medications may not work all that well even if you up your dose. I do find that moving my focus outside of myself (getting out of my head) helps me a lot. Some people accomplish this by exercising, some by volunteering, and some by taking up some immersive hobby. Motivation follows action, not the other way around.

Also, cognitive behavioral therapy is aces. Feeling Good is a good place to start. Good luck.
posted by acridrabbit at 10:10 AM on February 18, 2013

Sometimes grateful is the wrong word. I like to write/note down things I enjoy, rather than what I'm grateful for, for who am I to be grateful to?

Depression is tough. The things that work some days or some weeks don't work others. I have to mix it up.
posted by b33j at 2:49 PM on February 22, 2013

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