Today is 3,116 days since the worst day of my entire life. That date was June 20, 2013.
I received the gift of a second chance at life on that day, and while it was absolutely the most devastating physical, emotional, and spiritual rock bottom I could ever have thought possible, it turned out to also be the best day of my life. That is because every single breath I have taken since that day has been a glorious gift of everlasting and deep appreciation.
It was on that lowest day of extreme brokenness that I was given the opportunity to upgrade to “Lauren 2.0” and to institute a new operating system within myself to live joyfully and with purpose despite living with the struggles of chronic pain and illness.
That new operating system was called GRATITUDE.
Fast forward 8 years, 6 months, and 11 days later, and today my very first book, the “5-Minute Gratitude Journal for Teen Boys” is being released! I can still hardly believe it and am so unbelievably moved, humbled and GRATEFUL for this opportunity to spread my message by way of this beautiful book for teens. I am so proud of it and hope that it finds its way into the hands of the teens and pre-teens who can use their own operating system reboot, or can at least benefit from a user’s manual for gaining confidence, courage, and lifelong GRATITUDE.
I have spent these past many years touting the message of GRATITUDE as the premier “remedy” for diluting our struggles and growing our joy. I began with my Facebook community “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” back in early 2015 when I was unable to find any positive, inspirational, and solution-based chronic pain groups on Facebook. Today we have over 7,400 members who all join us knowing that we are a place of positivity and GRATITUDE. There are thousands of other groups where we are free to compare bloodwork results and symptoms….we are not that group. Our unique community focuses on improving our emotional pain, and we do that by practicing GRATITUDE, living with intention, mindfulness, and connection.
In 2016, I completed a year-long “GRATITUDE Project” on Facebook where each day I wrote an essay on something different that I was GRATEFUL for. My only rules were that I couldn’t repeat entries (as long as I remembered!) and I didn’t want to make the entries things that were of material value. I wanted my friends and followers to be able to relate to each day’s essay and have my writing resonate with each reader in the hopes that it would pique their own sense of appreciation. It has now been 5 years since that life-altering project made a profound difference in my life, and I daily share each entry as a “5 Years Ago Today” post on both my website as well as my Lauren Zalewski/Gratitude Addict Facebook page.
I began my live broadcast in April 2020 where each Thursday night I bring on a new topic and expert guest to share with my audience about the various ways we can use GRATITUDE and other life tools to live our best lives despite our struggles and difficulties. “Gratefully Living the Chronic Life” was born in the very early days of the pandemic, and you would think that after almost 70 episodes we would have run out of things to talk about when speaking about GRATITUDE….but as it turns out, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. The deeper we delve into the benefits that an attitude of GRATITUDE can have on our overall wellness, the more I find there is still left to discover!
I began writing a book as soon as my “GRATITUDE Project” ended on December 31, 2016. The working title is, “Chronically Grateful” and it is about everything I have learned in my 3,116 days post-rock bottom into “Lauren 2.0,” and how we can apply these tools of GRATEFUL living for those who are debilitated by the struggles that come along with living with chronic pain and illness. I had just taken a few weeks of sabbatical from my group in order to finish my first draft back in April when I was contacted by Rockridge Press with the opportunity to write the “5-Minute Gratitude Journal for Teen Boys.” I will admit that my first instinct was to turn it down so I could continue working on “Chronically Grateful.” It had been a few years since starting that project and I was hyper-focused and determined to finally get this passion project complete. But when I mentioned it to my friend Jill (a former high school English teacher) she made a very candid response that changed everything for me:
“Teen boys are the most forgotten about subset when it comes to mental health.”
Bam! There it was…….
That was the moment that I knew I had to take on this project. I’d worked with teens for years in various capacities, having been active in my local PTA and even starting a community theatre group for teens several years ago. And of course, I’d raised my own two kids, and while now in their 20’s, I can remember all too well the struggles they both had during those important and formative teen years. And they went through their teens in pre-pandemic times…..today’s teen has a whole new slew of issues to contend with. So if there was anything that I had to offer and could contribute in my own way in order to help them find the beauty in life no matter what their struggles are, I wanted in!
I started the process by delving into some research about the mental health of today’s teen boys and I was astonished by what I found. Today’s teen boy finds it hard to form relationships which often leads to a lack of connection. Their growing reliance on technology doesn’t help this, and they often become isolated, lonely, and depressed as they don’t feel they have an outlet to safely share their emotions. In a major study done in 2019, 70 percent of teen boys reported anxiety and depression as major problems in their life. For teen boys, there has been an alarming rise in suicide at three to four times the rate of girls.
How can GRATITUDE help?
There have been many studies over recent years as to the benefits of GRATITUDE in dealing with life’s struggles. I have personally seen the power of GRATITUDE change my life and the way I deal with my own difficulties. Studies show that making GRATITUDE a part of your life boosts psychological health, enhances empathy, and improves self-esteem. Being GRATEFUL is often difficult for teens who are navigating this new arena between childhood and adulthood. They are getting their feet wet into being a “grownup” and are just coming out from under the thumb of their parents, so admitting that others help them on their journey can feel contradictory to this newfound independence they are enjoying. When our kids are young, as parents/guardians we do our best to teach them “gratitude” and drill into them saying things like “please” and “thank you.” As our teens grow, they often seem to grow selfish and ungrateful, but what they are really doing is taking their new adulthood and autonomy for a test drive. They want to feel self-reliant and powerful-not counting on others to do things for them.
This all makes sense when you think about it! And this is where a tool that they can work on themselves like “5-Minute Gratitude Journal for Teen Boys” can come into play and help them to recognize that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them!
Admittedly, I went into this project thinking, “How hard could it be? It’s a gratitude journal!” and I now laugh at my naivety. This wasn’t designed to be your typical journal with a simple prompt of “What are you grateful for today?” written across the top with a blank page underneath for the teen boys to fill in as they wish. No…no….no….this was 120 different days, each focusing on a different topic pertaining to today’s teens, and offering four different prompts along with each topic including an inspirational and motivational quote, an affirmation, and various challenges interspersed throughout. My challenge was to make this book fun for the teens-perhaps they didn’t run out to buy this book for themselves, but if they received it as a gift I wanted them to have fun with it while receiving the benefits of the message that I hoped to have them figure out for themselves.
Powerful, fun, meaningful, insightful, inspirational, and able to be done in 5 minutes or less-THIS was a challenge that I was certainly not expecting! Finding GRATITUDE quotes said or written by people who today’s teens can relate to? Another huge challenge!
But in going through the process of writing this book, my message became clear and my voice came out. While the struggles of a teenager are a bit different than the struggle of a 52-year-old woman who struggles with a chronic health condition, they really are quite similar. Struggles with self-confidence, peer pressure, expectations, self-doubt, and stress are the same no matter what your age. Being able to take a look around our surroundings and recognizing the good that our loved ones do for us….same thing. Seeing past our own struggles and looking at the bigger picture while focusing on what we DO have versus what we DO NOT have….same again.
While what I have written, spoken about, shared, and promoted for the past nine years has been primarily geared towards those living with chronic health conditions, it was through the process of writing the “5-Minute Gratitude Journal for Teen Boys” where I came to recognize that the power of GRATITUDE so elegantly transcends age, sex, race, creed, and struggle. By putting our focus on the good that exists in our lives and by coming at life from a place of abundance, we can rewire our brains towards an attitude of YES and excitement which helps us to overcome a mindset of NO and fear.
- By talking about what makes us uncomfortable, we find comfort.
- By sharing our struggles, our struggles begin to lose their power over us.
- By taking an inventory of all that is good and true in our lives, we find more good and truth in each waking moment.
It was an honor to write this book and I thank Rockridge Press and my wonderful editors for believing in me and in my message enough to approach me to write it. I am thrilled to say that I’m working on another book for them called the “52 Week Intention Journal: Motivating Prompts to Encourage Reflection, Focus, and Meaningful Change” which is due out in March.
Gang, if you know of anyone with a pre-teen/teen boy, this book would make a wonderful gift that can help spark something special that already exists inside of them. By working through these 120 days they will find themselves being able to dig deep and find the key to unlocking it within themselves. What a gift that would be for any teen!
Let’s get this book in the hands of our teens in the hopes of helping them find out what is special about them and to give them the boost they need to find the operating system of GRATITUDE in their lives!
I am blessed. I am humbled. I am GRATEFUL.