By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
I haven’t always lived a life of gratitude. In fact, it never occurred to me until recently that it might be something worth pursuing. When I was a child I had some unfair deals handed to me so it as easy to feel sorry for myself. I learned to invite as many people as possible to my pity party. I suspect it was a learned behavior that came naturally to me.
Life as an adult hasn’t always been rosy either. Some of my misery was brought on by my own poor choices, and some, I believe, could be attributed to the work of others messing with my life and to the experience of losing dear ones. If you’ve read the book, Tear Soup, you will know what I mean when I tell you that I own at least half of the books that appear on the bookshelf on page 5, and I have some other books that could rightfully be added to that shelf.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a full-fledged believer in letting the air out and sharing what’s going on in my life. I know how helpful it is to be heard--and to be known. I also know what it’s like to feel like I don’t have a voice.
But I have come to realize I am the one who will determine whether I am going to miserable or whether I will be filled with awe and wonder that we are capable of surviving things that we don’t think we could ever survive. It’s not an easy journey, but I’m glad I’m on it. I suspect my friends are glad also.
So this gratitude thing has been stirring in me for awhile. One night in a support group a parent talked about her anger at my suggestion perhaps her dead child has left her a gift. I heard her speak of her desire to reject any notion that there could or would possibly be anything positive in this terrible experience. I get it. Only seeing how awful this is and rejecting anything positive in the early stages of grief is quite normal and I believe, healthy. But then I began to imagine what it would be like to reject any gift my child would want to offer me in life and even in death.
All of a sudden this “is your cup half full or half empty?” saying began to have real meaning to me. That’s one of the things I love about support groups. There is such opportunity to hear of new ways to go through this new life by listening to others and considering how that looks in my own life.
Here’s an example. Am I spending more time thinking how awful it is that my sister died before I got to fill up all the empty space she left when she abandoned our family fifty years ago? Or can I just be grateful for the fact that she chose to be with me when she died? Or can I be grateful that our neighbors let us live with them for six months after our house was totaled by fire, rather than to focus on my resentment at those who didn’t understand what a monumental inconvenience a house fire is?
There is now research that demonstrates how living with gratitude can enhance our life. Studies show that gratitude can be deliberately cultivated and therefore increase levels of well-being and happiness among those who do cultivate it. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with having a better immune system, and thus being healthier all around. Those who experienced gratitude enjoyed increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy. I decided I wanted more of that.
I was drawn to the words deliberately cultivated, which reminded me that living a life of gratitude doesn’t just happen for most of us. We have to decide that we want to be that person. Bringing gratitude into our consciousness helps us to be looking for it in our lives. We have to be willing to work that program even when things are rough. It would have been easier if we had started before things got rough, but we can still do it even now. The more we gently remind ourselves of the positives, the more easily a shift toward gratitude can occur.
Some suggestions are:
- Before going to sleep at night think of three things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.
Do this every night.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal where you can write positive things that have happened in your life.
Go back and read your journal often.
- Look for what is right about a situation, not what is wrong.
- Ask yourself these questions “What’s good about this?”, “What can I learn from this?”, and
“How can I benefit from this?
- Write a “thank you’ note to someone everyday for at least a month.
- Say “thank you” out loud to those around you. Don’t assume they know how you feel about them.
We do become different because of the hard times, losses, and tragedies that are in our lives. But it’s up to us what that difference will look like.
Some Gratitude Quotes to think over:
If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get. ~Frank A. Clark
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. ~Epictetus
What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough. ~Bertolt Brecht, Jungle of Cities, 1924
Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~W.T. Purkiser
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder
Who does not thank for little will not thank for much. ~Estonian Proverb
All that we behold is full of blessings. ~William Wordsworth
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy
We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude. ~Cynthia Ozick
Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. ~Aldous Huxle
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. ~Albert Schweitzer
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~John Milton
Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep. ~Felix Frankfurter
Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind. ~Lionel Hampton
To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings. ~Robert Emmon