The Gift of Gratitude
You cannot force perspective, but if you could it would alight the path to a rich and fulfilling life. It seems that for us to truly know what we have that is of great value in our lives, it must be threatened or taken away. It is the immense void left behind that shows us where this great gift begins and ends. Without the forced perspective, we can grow accustomed to the most valuable gifts in our lives and slowly they evolve into average things – nothing special, merely “normal.” But gratitude for what we have doesn’t have to come only from loss. It can be fostered and grown, like a muscle; strengthening us down to our very foundation, alighting what is good and kind deep down in our core. This is simply the practice of gratitude.
Gratitude is a state synonymous with bliss. It is an eyes-wide-open understanding of what we have and how immensely wonderful that is. Just to be alive and a thinking, feeling creature is an amazing gift– a truth we humans are seldom able to feel grateful for. For when we get stuck in our brains: overthinking mere interpretations, we lose our humble connection to the scope of life. We forget how small our window is into the winding, rushing river that is our existence. Which is why we must effort to look around right now, and tune our perspective toward what is most important.
Because we have no reason to examine what is great and valuable, we often look at what should change or what we want or what is wrong. But like the eyes in your head, your experience is limited to where you are looking. When practiced with honesty and diligence, you can retrain your brain to see what is worthy and of value in your current life. All it takes is a decision. If you’re like me, you’ll say, “Yeah, but I’m not like everyone… I don’t believe in… Things like this don’t work for me…” Etc. When things don’t work for us, it is solely the result of not having made the decision. We have kept a part of ourselves back from the decision for one reason or another. To stay safe in our vice or to honor our pain. To wallow, to punish ourselves, or because somewhere part of us doesn’t believe that we are worth it. Worth fighting for, worth working on. Worth saving, or worth investing in. Some tiny hidden part of us didn’t vote, “aye.” But you can do anything you decide to do. All it takes is being honest with yourself and owning that decision.
When you begin working on changing yourself, at first it will seem as though you are going through the motions and never really meaning them: saying things you don’t feel or believe but doing them anyway. And then one day, like waking up from a dream, suddenly all of them come true. It’s as though something buried deep down inside of you alights and flows up to the surface and your motivations are no longer “just to do it” – they are simply your truth.
Gratitude is synonymous with having a clear perspective, for it is appreciation based on a broader comprehension of worth. It allows you to know things and not overthink them. We gain clear purpose: with wide-open vision our life’s direction becomes clear. There is less ambivalence and less worry, for life is simple when you can triangulate to what matters most.
Which is why struggle is a gift disguised as a curse. If we do not have the gift of struggle, the true and much more nebulous struggle is ambivalence: the vague, the grey. Ambivalence and indifference are the most difficult because they provide no real perspective and therefore no clear direction. So what to do to create the perspective and insight one might gain from struggle? Create contrast. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, and what you know. Seek to unearth a deeper understanding of yourself and what you’re made of. Get your hands rough, your eyes wide, and your feet dirty. See yourself in the context of something opposite and new. Find an experience that will give you the perspective you need to discover who you are and what you believe in – make yourself feel something bigger than indifference. So that you can understand fully what you believe: what you value, and why. By challenging and broadening ourselves, we also gain a greater appreciation for everything we have. And that process inspires purpose: a pursuit that we can believe in and feel good about.
Pain and struggle can give the gift of perspective, but they can also inspire the opposite: a distorted reality shaped by a sick fear we cannot let go of. One that prevents us from enjoying our life and what we have, instead forcing us to live in the threat of its potential loss. Many times, trauma will cause us to retreat into ourselves to self-protect from future pain, whether that be the loss of a relationship or a perceived personal failure, or the threat of losing something we love too dearly. This fear can prevent us from investing in our lives for to enter into harms way is much too excruciating. Instead we live our most treasured moments from behind a weatherproof window: stuck in the anticipation and fear of what we love becoming lost. Which is of course, a painful life, and one we are never allowed to fully enjoy. We are forever trapped in hiding. Because this is a fear based on experience, it is totally rational, and therefore it can be difficult to overcome. Though small compared to what is good in our lives, one terrible event has the power to usurp our truth and rob us of a happy life. Which is why we must work to stop it. In order to reset it, we have to decide we want to live our life happily and take faithful steps to undo its harm. We must pursue our goal relentlessly, solely for the good of our happiness. We must decide to let go of the past so that we can give ourselves the gift of the best version of our present. Because no matter the pain we have lived, it is but a fraction of the love and good we have all around us. For every one day we have been hurt we can have a hundred days filled with joy. Decide to give yourself the gift of your present. Walk forward today in this pursuit, because no matter how difficult the path has been, this is your one life and you deserve to enjoy it.
For the sake of this year coming to an end, and a new one on the horizon, I invite you to make one tiny but powerful change in your thinking. A shift in perspective that requires nothing more than practice. Decide to look at this life with more gratitude and decide to really appreciate, on a deep personal level, what you have right now. Let go of whatever myths you’ve told yourself in the past about who you are and what will forever disappoint you; what people do and you do and instead, decide to change. Speaking to you from the other side of the rainbow, I can tell you that regardless of external factors or the darkness of the clouds above, once you decide something – it has already become true.
Practice redirecting your eyeballs to gratitude.
Be diligent. If it helps to remind you, wear a rubber band around your wrist. Draw a smiley face on it. Or put a smile on the wallpaper of your phone.
The next time you’re upset over something you wish you had, think of something you have that you are grateful for. Write it down.
The next time your patience is tested and you’re upset by people, stop and think of one kindness enacted toward you. Especially when you’ve had a terrible day. Sit yourself down and think until it comes, even if you’re exhausted. Something will come. Write it down.
The next time you are given an experience that is enjoyable, acknowledge it to yourself. Say aloud or think to yourself a formal statement calling it out, “This is wonderful.” Or “I feel great.”
The next time someone expresses kindness to you, even a smile, think to yourself, “People are good and kind.”
The next time you’re disappointed by something, force yourself to be bigger than your disappointment. Remind yourself that you have so much more to be grateful for and this thing is small. Focus on the good of having a new experience, and effort to let the rest go.
Even if you find yourself doubting your true motivations, go through the motions and act “as if.” One day you’ll look around you and realize the sun came up over your life, and the world is filled with humbling beauty and joy. And you will not believe what an amazing light it is, and that you ever missed seeing it before.
Sending my love to you all this Sunday! xox Sarah
Featured image License via Indigo Rain