In case we forget, November comes around every year to remind us to be thankful. We thank God for our many blessings, the universe for bringing us good fortune, and Aunt Marigold for her green bean casserole. Celebrations commence mimicking the original celebration of a plentiful harvest, an obvious reason to be grateful.
Instead of expressing gratitude when we are likely to notice the good, it’s time we learn to express gratitude when it feels impossible. We’re going to talk about why it’s important to highlight the positive in a negative circumstance, and how we can be thankful for what is going well when everything seems to be going wrong.
Expressing Gratitude When it Feels Impossible
When I was in middle school, I was presented with a question I thought I knew the answer to. What is a blessing? I thought of a blessing being a good thing, even a very good thing, but I didn’t fully understand the depth of the word ‘good’.
Things that are ‘good’ are things that make us happy, satisfied, content, excited, etc. Friendships and new clothes were good. Sunshine and custom cabinetry were good. What I didn’t realize until many years later, was that ‘bad’ things could be good, and vice versa.
Having many friends might mean having too many birthdays to remember. Too much sunshine may be good for the vegetables growing in the garden, but may cause your furniture to fade. Installing custom cabinets in the kitchen might be a person’s dream, but not everyone sees the high price tag as a very good thing.
What it really comes down to, is that everything is a two-sided coin. On the one side, something is shiny and marvelous; but on the other, it can be viewed as ugly or distasteful. One day, rain can come as a dry-spell ‘blessing’, and the next day it can spoil your trip to the beach.
Accepting that all things come around full circle might just be the nugget of information we are all seeking. Being present in each moment will create a stronger contrast when all things seem good. Discomfort and uncertainty will play minor roles somewhere in the back while you are busy enjoying the highlights.
When I quit exercising, for any length of time, I realize that my energy levels drop and my mind becomes cloudy. I think to myself that I am too tired to exercise. I feel weak and groggy, lethargic and unhappy. The moment I decide to just get my body moving I get the right boost of epinephrine and start to power through my day.
Therefore, when you think you haven’t got it in you to be grateful for anything, I suggest you reconsider. This mythical story you tell yourself about the world being against you, you not being good enough, or your circumstances getting in the way of you making magic, believe that these stories are untruths and that you deserve better.
Why you should express gratitude even when it feels impossible is something that I can only inspire. I cannot make you believe anything that I tell you, but if you want to live a life truly worth living, then I suggest you get off your bum and start looking around for things to be thankful for.
When you start to really appreciate the small things in your life, you realize that the bigger things are merely accessories. There won’t be much that can upset you when you know you have running hot water, socks, or bagels in the freezer. These are some basic examples, but once you start to shine a light on the basics, you will find that your entire life begins to glow.
Just like with exercising, you realize that you do have the ability to see the positive no matter what kind of grungy cave you put yourself in. Positivity breeds positivity just like negativity breeds negativity. Thinking positively (i.e. expressing gratitude) is a major factor that contributes to our overall health. And who wants to live in the dark their whole lives?
Choose to get yourself out of the dark, and allow me to guide you through to a more clear way of living. Let’s talk about how.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
Journaling in and of itself is beneficial to our health. The habit of writing things down gives us the essential tool that improves our memory function (that and adding gingko to our diets). Writing for the purpose of expressing gratitude is great for experiencing the present and developing new healthy habits (both of which we will discuss in more detail shortly).
Creating a space that is dedicated to gratitude, such as a journal or a notebook, is like creating a sanctuary for your thoughts. Buy a handsome looking lined-paper sanctuary and start writing what you are thankful for.
If keeping a gratitude journal is a new venture for you, start with the small goal of writing just one or two things you are grateful for every day. Just like with any journaling habit, decide which time of day makes the most sense. Some people find that starting the day off on a positive note will make for a more centered or focused day as a whole. Others might agree that ending the day on a positive note is the best way to make up for what didn’t turn out so well, or a great way to acknowledge what did.
When you start to express your gratitude through writing, you might realize that throughout the day you remember little things you had previously written in your journal. Either the night before or that same morning, you can go about your day with your head held a little higher.
So, buy a journal, and use it every day. Date each of your entries and feel free to take up an entire page when it comes naturally to do so. Make a bullet point for each thing you are thankful for in a day (and space them out so you don’t seem overly grateful one day and entirely ungrateful the next). Then elaborate.
Are you thankful for someone in your life? Then give a reason why. Be specific. Did that person do something that impacted you greatly? Explain.
The same goes for objects, entities, figures, or concepts. Perhaps you were thankful that your alarm went off this morning and yet you forgot to check that it was set last night. Remember: the simplest things can bring us the most joy. The bigger, least expected, things can potentially make our day.
2. Develop new habits
Implementing gratitude into our everyday lives is the process of developing a new habit. Again and again we will learn to instinctually resort to positivity even in sour situations. Retraining our brains in this way is necessary to fully feel the impact that thankfulness can have us.
When you’re in line at the grocery store or waiting to order a coffee, and would much rather be where you’re headed (at home or at the office), try to think of something that you are grateful for instead. Perhaps you are grateful for the free samples at the market, or happy that the cafe has your favorite seasonal coffee available, or that the cafe is even open that early before you start the workday. Any pinch of gratitude goes a long way.
Practicing gratitude daily will serve to increase your overall quality of life. Even when you’ve just moved and have no money or furniture or know anybody in your neighborhood and can’t find a job quickly enough. There is no amount of bad that can crush any small ounce of good.
Developing the habit of gratitude will eventually override your natural responses of irritation, anger, or animosity. You will start to think in terms of highest regard. Instead of being jealous of another person’s success or recognition, be happy for them, but also grateful that you don’t have all the same problems that they have. We can’t know for sure what struggles they’ve overcome, or are currently facing. What we can know is that we have our own problems at a time when we are meant to solve them.
Learning to turn things around can make all the different in developing this new habit of gratitude. Are you willing to stay on the dark crusty side of the coin, or on the bright shiny side?
3. Express gratitude genuinely
It’s easy for us to throw around ‘thank you’s’ whenever they seem appropriate. As children we are often told by our parents to say ‘thank you’ when we are given something as a gift or fed a meal, etc. But are we fully grasping the concept of being grateful? Are we actually thankful for the meal that was prepared for us, or that thing that was given to us?
Of course we would like to express gratitude, regardless, so we can avoid hurting someone’s feelings. I’m not saying to give it away that you don’t appreciate someone’s effort in a particular situation, but rather look at the many different angles that you can genuinely be grateful. Perhaps your host went through the trouble to clean her house and prepare a large meal and entertain you for two hours. Appreciating the fact that someone did something with you in mind is enough to turn any night around for the better.
Whether not you liked the food, or the hand soap in the bathroom, know that someone did something out of the kindness of his or her own heart without any expectation in return.
4. Experience the present
It’s easy to resort to the past or ponder deeply about the future. When we find that we are constantly wishing we could be anywhere except where we are, we are stealing life from ourselves. The only time that is is now. And in that time we have a very important choice to make.
Do we choose to be bombarded by our train of unconscious thought? Or do we choose to remain focused on the activity at hand, what is happening in front of us in the present?
You may be wondering what being in the present has to do with gratitude. In some cases, they have everything to do with each other. This is especially true when it comes to ‘impossible’ situations in which we find ourselves smothered in dread, or frustration.
When our circumstances do not align with our ideals, it’s more than likely that we fall into a depression, dwell on the negative, or more often than necessary we find ourselves in fight-or-flight mode. The one thing we can count on to clear the dark skies from our view, is to practice gratitude.
Find some way to be grateful for your horrible, dreadful situation. Is it a learning experience? Does it add to you a special tool that you can utilize moving forward? Personally, I have found that many of my most embarrassing, poorly executed moments have taught me a lot about myself and a lot about other people. In every situation, I have made it through to the other side much wiser than when I entered.
Experiencing the present is something that each of can become a master of. Since we aren’t looking for mastery in today’s conversation, I might suggest that we all accept the ongoing potential for growth and deliberate awareness. The more aware we are at all times, the less likely we are going to be spreading ourselves thin. Calculating is much easier when we are whole, full-bodied persons.
Focusing on the past or even future to remove yourself from the pain you feel in the present is a sure way to prolong your own suffering. Simply just paying attention is enough for the ride to be over quicker than expected. For that, it is easy to be grateful. A clear mind is certainly something to keep your head held high. With the matter at hand and a pinch of gratefulness on your mind, you will find that your entire day looks just wonderful in hindsight.
Gratitude is great for digestion. If you aren’t convinced that you need more gratitude on your plate, then reconsider the next time you have indigestion, an upset stomach, or heartburn. Gratitude is the gateway drug to happiness – the feeling you think you’re feeling now, but may just be due for a surprise.
The best start to realizing possibility is to accept that it exists everywhere. Once you know that possibility is all around you, then you will be able to knock down the walls that make everything seem like a lost cause. From that moment, you will be on your way to seeing the brighter side of anything. This in turn will make you more susceptible to thankfulness.
Has there been a time in your life when the power of gratitude has completely surprised you? If so, were you the giver or the recipient of that transaction & how did it make you feel?
Let me know in the comments below & thanks for joining me!
What steps towards practicing gratitude will you commit to today?