By Margie Warrell, Forbes
Gratitude expands our capacity to feel joy and infuses a deeper dimension into our living. It’s not something to practice only when fortune strikes – when we land the job, cure the illness, or win the client – but something to practice at all times. In fact a little gratitude can help us stay far more buoyant when the storm waves are high and we are struggling to stay afloat. Gratitude elevates our spirit; it gives us access to humor amidst our hardship, strength amidst our struggles, and hope when despair looms large.
Of course, like any worthwhile endeavor, practicing gratitude demands daily mindfulness and ongoing effort. It’s so easy to get caught up focusing on all that isn’t as you want it to be – what people do (or fail to do), what’s happening in your job, community, or family; the state of your health or the shape of your finances. It’s why so many spend the best years of their lives anxious and resentful, cursing the gap between their plans and reality!
Sure, life provides a constant stream of situations that we would never consciously choose for ourselves. 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, all while putting your ‘problems’ into perspective and emboldening you with the courage you need to respond to them more constructively, less resentfully; more graciously, less begrudgingly.
There are many whose bodies have been crippled with arthritis, who are facing an early death from an illness they didn’t deserve and cannot cure, who have lost children to wars and homes to disaster yet who, amidst their misfortune, have radiated a quiet gratitude and special brand of joy. How could they be so happy when life has been so hard for them? Simple. They choose to live in gratitude. As holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote, “For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”
On the other hand, there are people who have problems that millions would pray to have – seemingly living a life of success and enjoying every luxury money can afford – yet who seem lost and forever looking for something more. The truth is that gratitude has nothing to do with good fortune. Unleashing its power in your daily life takes nothing more than recognizing that life itself is a gift, that it has an expiration date, and that every day—from the most pleasurable to the most anguished—is shaped by the mindset you bring to it. So as you read this now, take a moment to be grateful for even the littlest most ordinary things because one day you’ll look back to see they were the actually the big things.
Of course, living in a permanent state of gratitude is a tough task for anyone. As human beings, we all succumb to the temptation of comparing and complaining and focusing on what’s wrong over what’s right. Living in gratitude entails an ongoing exercise of accepting ourselves as the imperfect yet magnificent beings that we are. So instead of berating yourself for occasionally taking things (your kids, your home, your freedom, your friends) for granted, instead forgive yourself for being human, take a long deep grateful breath, and commit to radiating gratitude with, and for, those around you…whoever they are (and however maddening they sometimes can be!). After all, feeling gratitude without spreading it is like preparing a magnificent Thanksgiving feast without sharing it.
Gratitude is an antidote to life’s hardships and a magnifier of its blessings. We must practice it not just at Thanksgiving, or just when life is easy. We must practice it always.