By Dr Margie Warrell, Forbes
We all know that it’s good to be grateful.
Yet let’s face it, the gravitational pull of negativity is strong. Unless we’re consciously choosing to do otherwise, our attention tends to get pulled toward what’s wrong, what’s missing and whom we can blame.
Yet recognize that each time your attention is focused on what you don’t like in your life, you are inadvertently choosing to reside in the land of deficit. It explains why some of the most joyful people you might meet have so little and why some people with wealth beyond what you can imagine can be so miserable.
No matter how many ‘blessings’ you may have to count, if you’re dwelling on what you don’t have or don’t like about your current circumstances, you’re living in emotional poverty.
The Covid pandemic has been awash with circumstances that have not been as most of us would like. So as this Thanksgiving holiday draws close, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the virtue of gratitude, not just in good times, but at all times.
I’m guessing that you, like me, have had the good fortune to meet people who live from gratitude despite their troubles and life trials. My dad is one of those people for me.
Dad didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was 12, left school at 16 and spent nearly 50 years milking cows, morning and night, to make ends meet. He’s also had his share of heartaches. Losing his youngest son (my brother Pete) to mental illness and supporting his oldest son (my brother Frank) to readjusting to life in a wheelchair after an accident left him with paraplegia. Now at 86, he’s buried most of his friends. Yet dad has told me numerous times that he feels like “the richest man in all the world.” Needless to say, he’s not referring his stock portfolio (never had one), but to the wealth of love in his life.
Dad has 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 at all times. He’s demonstrated how gratitude bolsters our resilience and buoys our spirits to stay above the waves when life’s storms roll in. (If you haven’t one lately, it’s coming.)
International travel restrictions have meant that I’ve been unable to see my dad since I was last in Australia in March 2020. Yet I’m so grateful for the technology that enables us to speak often. And grateful for the skies reopening to travel back to Australia to give him a huge bear hug in the months ahead. You see, gratitude is not dependent on life being just as we want it to be, but on our decision to find the good in it just as it is.
Gratitude is ultimately not about how much or little we have, but the story we tell yourself about it.
A tonic for tough times, it helps us keep our humor amidst hardships, tap dormant strength amidst struggles, and retain hope when despair knocks at hearts door.
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.
Because gratitude is not our natural state, we must actively choose to practice it – day in, day out. And on the really rough days, when thankfulness is in short supply, to look up toward the heavens and be thankful for the gift of life itself.
Unleashing its power in your daily life starts by recognizing that life itself is a gift, with an expiration date you will not be given, and that your minute- by-minute experience of each day — from the most pleasurable to the most problem-filled—is shaped by the mindset you bring to it.
If you’d like to cultivate more gratitude in your life, start by putting aside some time to practice it. 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. You might also:
- 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 podcast, “When you appreciate all that you have, what you have appreciates.”
Whatever your circumstances are right now, 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 won’t run out of it.
Practice regularly. Share generously.
Happy Thanks Giving!