Now that’s a big topic to tackle and to be honest, I feel a bit unqualified to write about it. I worry about being hypocritical or coming off judgmental because, let’s face it, I do my fair share of whining, complaining, and 3-year-old tantrum throwing; so, why should someone like me write about this topic?
Well, perhaps it’s because I’m beginning to learn that my sometimes doomsday, negative Nancy attitudes never really work out well in the end. They leave me feeling more stressed, depressed, and exhausted in the end. So, I recently decided to try doing the exact opposite—why not give gratitude a shot?
Now, I’m not referring to the fleeting expressions of thankfulness and appreciation we all experience when life is going well, even though these are great, too. What I’m talking about is a transformation of an entire state of being--a character trait that permeates our existence and emanates even when we don’t “feel” thankful, grateful, or appreciative. Is this too lofty a goal?
Well, it certainly requires the same attention and effort as does any good habit we want to establish (exercise more, eat right, etc…). Practice, patience, dedication, and determination in spite of feeling like you just don’t want to do it. These are the keys to successfully forming and sustaining a good habit.
Oh, but the practice part….
I don’t like the practice part because I know that if I truly want to transform into a grateful person and not just a person who sometimes expresses gratitude, then I must “consider it pure joy …when [I] experience trials of many kinds” (to quote the Bible, James 1:2).
That’s where the growth comes in any effort towards positive change—in the extra mile you choose to run even though your lungs are on fire; in the self restraint that may involve figurative handcuffs to avoid reaching for that piece of chocolate cake; and, in the frustrating and heart wrenching trials that test our fortitude and ask, “are you still grateful now”?
Well, that’s exactly what I’ve encountered—practice.
When my father was diagnosed with ALS in November of 2012 it was virtually impossible to find anything to be grateful for in this diagnosis. As the years went on, and his conditioned worsened, I felt resentment towards this horrendous disease and intense heartache at watching my father suffer so much. It wasn’t until the very end when he passed away that I finally felt the gratitude—thankful that he no longer had to suffer in such an awful way. I was grateful that, because this was a several year process, my mom was prepared gradually for life without my dad, becoming independently capable of taking care of all aspects of life. Most of all, I’m grateful for the caregivers that came into our lives and loved my father and our family like their own. Gustavo and Amaryllis will always be a part of our family and we would have never met them otherwise.
After my fathers passing, however, I noticed that my attitude was getting worse. I was not “feeling” very grateful, instead I was irritated and frustrated a lot. And, it wasn’t until a recent trip to my 20-year Kilgore College Rangerette reunion almost didn’t happen due to cancelled flights, that I realized living a life of gratitude isn’t a one and done kind of deal. It’s an all the time, every time, decision to choose to be thankful even when I don’t feel it.
And, boy, did I get it. Between the cancelled flights, 14 extra hours of driving, and lost baggage on the flight home, there was plenty of practice to test my willingness to be grateful. Though, in the moment, I did get upset and irritated, I was ultimately able to appreciate the fact that I made it to the reunion at all and that my bag did make it back to me with nothing missing. I was thankful, not resentful.
The trip wasn’t all setback and challenges, though. Not only did I get to see all my friends whom I haven’t seen in 20 years, I also got to experience the incredible generosity and kindness of Chevrolet, who graciously provided me with a wonderful car to use for my reunion weekend! They didn’t just provide any old vehicle, they gave me the brand new 2018 Chevy Equinox that only just went on the market!
The five seats were perfect for helping shuttle several “Rangerette forevers” around to various events over the weekend and my absolute favorite feature was the 360 Surround Vision Camera that provides a literal look at the Equinox’s perimeter. It uses strategically located cameras on all sides of the vehicle (that I had no clue were there) to provide a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the vehicle, helping us get a great view of the surrounding area from above as we backed out of parking spots. It was honestly so cool. I’ve never seen anything quite like it! What a huge blessing that was to have for the weekend!
If I learned anything from the numerous opportunities I’ve had to “practice” gratitude, it’s that the more I try to look for something for which to be thankful, the more I find. Quite honestly, it’s become a fun game with which I start my day. I deliberately challenge myself to find at least three things for which I’m thankful each day and at least one way I can show kindness and appreciation to someone else. I’ve even started having my kids do it, too.
What we’ve discovered is that it doesn’t take much! Even simply saying “thank you” to the person serving free samples at Sam’s Club can make a difference! Trust me, they appreciate it!
So, if you find yourself feeling like things just aren’t going your way, I encourage you to try gratitude because, after all, “gratitude is the healthiest of human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” (Zig Ziglar)