Gratitude isn’t a feeling, it’s a practice. This is a very important distinction, because we often confuse the practice of gratitude with “feeling grateful“. We can feel grateful for that awesome promotion, or the date that went extremely well, or our super cool friends. But feeling grateful for cool things that happen to us isn’t “gratitude.” That’s basically just an emotional response to experiencing cool things. It didn’t take any personal effort or acknowledgement on your part, you just got happy because something went your way. In other words, you felt happy. Not grateful. Happy. Big difference.
The practice of gratitude is like any practice. Take physical exercise as an example: the more you do it, the stronger you get, and the more results you will start to see in your professional and personal life on so many levels (physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, financial… you name it.)
The problem with thinking that gratitude is a feeling is that, unfortunately, when things aren’t going so well, we don’t “feel” like being grateful. Have you ever felt super crappy and down in the dumps and compelled to express gratitude? Probably not. Your partner left you, the car broke down, finances are low, the kids are fighting, you’ve had a long day at work, got criticized by a colleague, and when all you want to do is go home and relax, now you’re stuck in heavy traffic. What are all these people doing on MY road!? It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is the perfect time to practice gratitude.
The key word here is practice. In the beginning, it takes some serious creativity, focus, and effort. But anything worth anything takes a little effort. When all looks grey and gloomy, it’s really hard to find the silver lining. Fortunately, practicing gratitude isn’t about finding any silver lining, and it’s not about being overly optimistic. Practicing gratitude is basically the practice of looking beyond the crappy stuff.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: “looking beyond crappy stuff” is NOT the same as “overlooking the crappy stuff,” but simply changing your viewpoint (and sometimes attitude) about it.
There are many ways to practice gratitude, and some can be very easy. For example, today I woke up breathing. Some people weren’t afforded that opportunity… Thank you for another day. Given how I treated my kids last night in my moment of exhaustion, I don’t feel deserving of another day…
I woke up in a country that is not in the middle of bombings and war- in fact, it was silent with the peaceful sound of running water from a fountain outside my window and birds chirping as they bathed in it. My kids are healthy, I am healthy, I have a job, money, food, a car, and iPhone… What if I didn’t have these things?
My 42 year-OLD (yeah, I highlighted that last word) husband left me for a life of prostitutes, alcohol and gambling addictions. My childhood was full of abuse and neglect. I could focus on that… I could spend countless amounts of my precious energy being angry, sad, bitter and resentful for all the people and things that failed to meet my expectations… It really is just a matter of perception. I can’t deny it hurt a lot to go through all of that, and the grieving process was (and still is) a big part of my life. But in spite of all of that- no, BECAUSE of all of that, I am where I am right now. Strong, beautiful, empowered, resilient and with my heart left open and soft. Not hardened and shut down. It could have been SO much worse… but it isn’t.
In practicing gratitude, it’s easier to start with the stuff that we like, or the things that are going well in our life. Making it a daily habit of acknowledging and being grateful for the cool things that are going well for us, we slowly lose our focus on the things that aren’t going so well, and as if by miracle, MORE awesome things start to happen and appear in our lives. And as more awesome things start to happen, the less we are pulled toward or feel a need to waste our precious energy obsessing about the not-so-awesome things (which are almost always completely out of our control. Side note: if they were in your control you shouldn’t be complaining about them but rather doing something about it).
I got side-tracked…
Anyway, after a while of strengthening your “gratitude muscles” you can start venturing into the “gratitude for crappy things.” This can be a challenge, and definitely not something I’ll go into depth about today, but there will come a time in our life when we can reflect on the stuff that didn’t go well and, if not be grateful for it, just not feel like a victim about it. And when we choose to no longer be a victim to life, we set ourselves free.
Gratitude can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and because life is the way it is, the opportunities are in abundance.
Today, may I be an instrument of peace. May I learn how to love and be loved.
May I somehow be deserving of all that I have been blessed with.