We all know that it’s a good thing to be grateful.
Yet let’s face it, like so may things are ‘good for us’, practicing gratitude in our everyday lives is easier said than done. Particularly when our attention is so often pulled toward the not-so-good things.
The last 18 months has been awash with them.
Given the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us once again, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on the virtue of gratitude, not just in good times, but at all times.
I’m sure than you, like me, have had the good fortune to meet people who, despite extraordinary adversity, radiate a special brand of joy. My dad is one of those people in my life.
My father never owned a pair of shoes until he was 12, left school at sixteen and spent nearly 50 years milking cows, morning and night. Dad lost his youngest son—my brother Peter—to mental illness and supported his oldest son—my brother Frank—to readjusting to life in a wheelchair when an accident left him with paraplegia. Now at 86, he’s buried most of his friends. Yet dad would happily tell you that he feels like the richest man in all the world. Needless to say, when speaks of being rich, he’s not referring his stock portfolio (never had one), but to the wealth of love in his life.
Dad taught me that gratitude isn’t about how much or little you have, but the story you tell yourself about it. And he taught me that gratitude isn’t something to be practiced just when times are good – when the rain finally comes or the illness is healed, but to be practiced at all times. Dad demonstrated how gratitude is a tonic for tough times, building resilience and buoying our spirit to stay above the waves when life’s storms roll in. (If you haven’t one lately, its coming.)
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Gratitude helps us keep our humor amidst life’s hardships, our strength amidst its struggles, and hope when despair knocks at our hearts door.
Of course, gratitude is not our natural state. We can all succumb to the gravitational pull of negativity, dwelling on what’s wrong, missing and who’s to blame (it’s why so many people live in complain and anxiety.) If you’ve done that lately, you’re not alone. Yet recognize that each time your attention is focused on what you don’t like about the current state of your life, you are also choosing to reside in the land of deficit. And no matter how much material wealth you have, if you’re dwelling on what isn’t as you want it to be, you’re living in emotional poverty.
Which is precisely why we must actively choose to practice gratitude. Day in. Day out. And on the really rough days, when our hearts are heavy and thankfulness in short supply, to look up toward the heavens and be thankful for the gift of life itself.
Sure, life provides a constant stream of situations that don’t conform to hopes or fulfill expectations. But beneath that stream runs a deeper current of blessings that can easily be taken for granted. Gratitude takes nothing for granted. It shines a spotlight on all that is good, amplifying its presence, and reframing your ‘problems’ through a larger lens that liberates you to respond more constructively, less resentfully.
Spending just one minute listing all you have to be grateful for expands your capacity for joy and infuses a deeper dimension to your living.
Unleashing its power in your daily life therefore takes no more than recognizing that life itself is a gift, that it has an expiration date, and that your daily experience of each day — from the most pleasurable to the most problem filled—is shaped by the mindset you bring to it. So make it a daily practice to be grateful – for big and small things, for plans worked out and plans derailed. There’s a gift in everything if you look for it. Here are a few ways to operationalize gratitude by:
- Start and end your day with a moment of thanks (consider putting a gratitude journal by your bedside)
- Share with others what you’re grateful about
- Regularly express your gratitude to others
- Help others find things to be grateful for also
- Take a ‘sacred pause’ in the midst of your day and whisper Thank you
As Lynn Twist shared on my Live Brave podcast, “When you appreciate all that you have, what you have appreciates.”
So wherever you are this Thanksgiving, pay attention to what you’re attending to. And should you find yourself slipping to comparing, complaining and dwelling on what you don’t have, take a deep grateful breath and refocus on all that do have.
Emotions are contagious. When you choose gratitude, you inspire others to do the same. After all, feeling gratitude without spreading it is like preparing a Thanksgiving feast without sharing it… something dad would never do!
Gratitude is not a limited resource. You aren’t going run out if it. Practice and share generously.