Jennifer has recently been through a painful divorce and she’s not sleeping well. She’s having difficulties with her children, who blame her for the divorce. Her work life is rocky as well and sometimes she’s unsure if she’s in the right career.
What she thinks: Yes, life is rough right now, but every life has difficult times. Really, I am so grateful to be alive, for my children, for my home, my good health, all that I have.
Robert has lots of everything—a nice apartment in the city, a well-paying job, new car, nice clothes. But he didn’t get that last promotion at work. His last vacation was a disappointment and, no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t save money.
What he thinks: I just don’t understand why things are going wrong. It just doesn’t seem fair when I work so hard. People don’t appreciate me and I deserve better than this.
Robert’s approach is about holding a grievance—about what’s missing or wrong. Jennifer’s is about being grateful for all you have.
Gratitude is a super power!
Gratitude isn’t a new idea; most spiritual practices and philosophies emphasize gratitude and compassion for others. But in recent years gratitude has shifted from being an idea to a concrete tool that people can use to become happier and healthier. This practice focuses on appreciating all that you have and all that others have done for you and de-emphasizes scarcity thinking and being angry or blaming others for your problems.
“When we develop a sense of appreciation for those around us and cultivate a sense of gratitude for life itself, we are relieved of the burden that comes with seeing ourselves as ‘victims,’” writes Greg Krech in Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection.
Krech calls this state of appreciation “grace,” a term used in many religions. However, grace as a practice is more than a belief, it’s a shift in thinking. Or as Krech puts it: “It’s the difference between seeing life as an entitlement and seeing it as a gift.”
However it is practiced, gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Yes, pain and injustice and cruelty exist in this world. But when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. We often feel more energized to reach out and help others; we feel we have some power to positively affect our world. This again leads to a feeling of well-being and gratitude. It’s a self-sustaining cycle!
In her book Radical Gratitude, author and speaker Ellen Vaughn tells the story of a soldier in Vietnam, imprisoned as a POW for seven years. When he returned to the United States, he was startled at the small things people complained about. He decided then he would never stop being grateful for everything in his life, no matter how difficult.
Of course, most of us don’t have such extreme experiences to help us count our blessings. In their book Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude, authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil write that practicing gratitude can be as simple as writing a thank you note, working in the garden, walking on the beach aware of nature’s gifts, telling someone you love what you appreciate about her/him. It’s more than what you do, it’s the attitude with which you do it.
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude
fosters a life of generous, effortless,
gracious flow filled with faith,
hope, prosperity, peace and joy.
Consider the following exercise for putting gratitude into action in your relationships with people close to you—family, friends and colleagues:
- Invest 10 minutes in discerning what specifically you appreciate about the person.
- It may help to ask yourself a few questions in advance: What were some of the highlights—your first meeting, fun times when you laughed, etc.? What specific qualities do you admire about her/him? What efforts by this other person have helped your relationship navigate and withstand difficult times?
- Share the results with the person, requesting that he or she not make judgments or negate any of the appreciative comments.
This simple exercise helps you stop taking your life for granted by reawakening your awareness and appreciation for the gift of your relationships.
Now try it on yourself! Unconditional love and gratitude begin with you!
Author’s content adapted under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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