To be grateful when the world feels hateful.
Ah yes, to be grateful... we hear it all of the time, don’t we? Be thankful, they say, be positive. The glass is half full, now drink up and don’t complain! But, what does it look like to be actively grateful? Is there special formula? And if so, can it make me happier, more content, and less impatient while waiting in any kind of line?!
The truth is, gratefulness comes in every shape and size. You can be grateful that you caught the bus, made the team, or aced the test. You can also be grateful that your mother’s cancer is in remission, or that you didn’t lose your job during the pandemic. It may seem boorish to value the former as much as the latter, but in my opinion, both are equally important. There is an extreme power in being mindfully thankful— for everything. This simple yet courageous act can absolutely change your life and that of those around you.
There are a plethora of studies that reiterate this fact to me, and yet I still forget the power of gratitude. I heard an interesting study about the neurological implications of practicing gratefulness on Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast (which is amazing and you should totally check it out). Shawn Achor, a Harvard graduate and happiness research expert, conducted a study where his team took “high level pessimists” from the ages of 10-80 years and made them think for 2 minutes about 3 things they are grateful for in life. They continued this practice for 21 days. After just a few short weeks, these super sad folks turned into some “low level optimists!” Basically, they reported happier outlooks towards themselves, their relationships, and their livelihoods. In addition, they found that by slowing down the brain and focusing on the present, the subjects experienced lower levels of stress and higher levels of focus. Interestingly, those around the subjects also experienced lower levels of stress. This indicated that contentment, gratitude, and happiness are somewhat contagious. Now, I’m no scientist, but anything that can turn a “get off my lawn” grandpa into a “get off my lawn, but have a nice day” grandpa sounds effective to me.
So, you’re saying that you can take a mere 2 minutes out of your day to be grateful and reap all of these wonderful benefits? Seems like a no brainer on paper... But at times, this simple act proves to be more difficult than we imagine.
It is hard to appreciate and accept our lives for what they are right now- at this very moment. Messy, crazy, uncomfortable, anxious, angry, gassy, pissy, and all. But, it is looking at the mess and choosing to create a kinder path amid the storm. This path may not have all of the answers or prevent any suffering, but it has far more flowers and sunsets along the way. It is a path paved with stones made from the gravel of our guts that we’ve spilled out in times of pain. We work with these painful moments. We scream, cry, and cuss. We reflect, nurture, and heal. And it is through thankfulness, that we are able see the value of our mistakes, accept the broken pieces, and truly grow. We turn those pieces of gravel into something useful- a lesson to inform our journey. By being gracious in a world that thrives on discontentment, we take our power back. We are able to recognize our humanity and grow in humility. It is only then that we are able to feel more warmth, inspiration, and love as we pave our winding paths of life.
Along my journey, I’ve found that human suffering is inevitable. It is the dichotomy of good and evil- the yin and the yang. You cannot recognize the face of one without staring directly into the eyes of the other. That is part of trying to be a wholesome individual— knowing both pain and sorrow and choosing goodness anyway. It is through the acknowledgement of our brokenness, that we will be able to cultivate a different consciousness. A consciousness that values human life. Our priorities will change from getting a promotion to healing the sick, lifting the marginalized, and recognizing one another in a deeper way. Radical change starts by looking at ourselves and taking action— big or small. During these heartbreaking and unprecedented times, we need this skill now more than ever.
I encourage you to sit down 4 times a week and think for two full minutes about everything you are thankful for. The shoes on your feet, the food in your belly, the hair or absence of hair on your head, the relatives you have that are still alive, the house you’ve made a home, the car you drive, the smile you exchanged with a stranger, the laugh you shared with a co-worker, and the fact that an asteroid hasn’t destroyed us all... think of everything you can!! Another popular gratitude practice is to keep a journal of thankfulness. This works for some, but for me it feels like a chore. Thinking and reflecting is much easier and more tangible for my life... ha-ha, I’m lazy. But hey, I’m thankful for these lazy bones!
Overall, gratitude is the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. It brings you to a place where you feel happy and proud of your journey. In that space, you are able to own your faults, shame, and guilt, and realize it’s those very moments of brokenness that made you who you are today. So, go, be grateful! Sing with the Oompa Loompas! And see how a tiny thought can bloom into a more beautiful reality.
This week's blog writer is Ellis Jones. She is from Shawnee, Oklahoma and recently graduated with a Psychology degree from Abilene Christian University. This fall she is headed to the University of Texas at Arlington to complete a master's of Industrial/Organizational Psychology.