Occasionally, everybody has a bad day, a bad conversation, a hopeless moment, a really low time. Sometimes moments turn into days. Perhaps days turn into months and the inner Polyanna that used to speak so positively to you has seemingly suddenly left the building.
During those times, when it seems like the endless possibilities have ended, when there is nothing left, finding the will to be grateful can be especially hard. It is much easier to focus on what we don’t have, what we haven’t done, or what others have not done for us.
Sometimes, things are going along just fine. What we find is that nothing is really wrong, but we wish we had more. We wish for different. We want for better. We become dissatisfied.
In this culture of compare and contrast, where we judge our situations “good” or “bad” primarily by comparing ourselves to each other, I have been known to sit in my figurative corner and enjoy a toddler-level “not-fair” tantrum. Ridiculous, yes, but being grateful is not at the forefront of what I want to do when I feel down or feel something is lacking. However, practicing gratitude is the best thing I should do…and so should you. Here’s why:
- Being grateful improves your health. Seriously. It’s true. Studies have shown that how we think has a physiological impact on our mental and physical well-being. According to an article published by UMass, Dartmouth, gratitude may even have a positive impact on your heart health. Yes, Really! (But let’s not mistake this for an excuse to stop exercising just yet.)
- Gratitude builds better relationships. By being grateful, we strengthen the relationships in our lives. You are suspicious? Well, in a 2010 article Robert Emmons (well known in positive psychology circles for his gratitude research and writing) writes that when we exercise gratitude, we focus on what others have done for us or on what we have learned from them. We identify the impact they have had and the resulting benefit. In fact, Emmons writes: “…being grateful for the contributions that other people have made to your life…can transform the way you see yourself.” We are not just improving our relationships with others, but also with ourselves. Cue Stuart Smalley.
- Practicing thankfulness creates positive perspective. When you start your day feeling more like Eeyore than Pooh Bear, it can be hard to find the happy and hopeful. Each day or circumstance may seem impervious to change or possibility. This, dear friends, is only one perspective. This is the perspective of limit, of boundaries, of the insatiable desire for more or different. However, focusing on what we have opens up the gates of our boundaries to flexibility, to possibility, to enough. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes: “…practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” Amen, Dr. Brown. In this era of competition and comparison, may it ever be so.
As we enter into this week of Thanksgiving in the good old USA, I know that I am blessed because my hardships PALE in comparison to so many others and for that I am extremely grateful. I am, however, challenging myself to enter into a spirit of gratitude that will persevere well beyond the holidays. Frankly, I like the idea of being healthier, having better relationships, and LOVE the benefit of a positive perspective. This challenge to be grateful doesn’t mean I ignore the bad stuff, but being grateful should make the hard stuff seem more like a speed bump and less like a brick wall.
How will you find your “grateful” this season? How will you make it last past the holiday? Share your thoughts in the comments below. You never know who may benefit!