“I’ll take a pass,” I said. “I don’t have anything to be grateful for today.”
By the time I was 30 years old, I was tired. Not the kind of tired that goes away with a nap, but bone-deep exhausted and constantly in pain. From the outside, my life looked idyllic – I was in a relationship with a handsome man, making good money on the leadership team of a mission-focused company, and a national leader of a vibrant hobby community outside work.
But the truth, that I couldn’t admit, was that I absolutely hated my life.
I’d been working myself into the ground since I was 9 years old and I didn’t know how to stop. I was terrified of not having enough money, of failing to perform at a peak level, of dropping any of the balls I was constantly juggling. My hobbies had turned into obligations, free-time was a concept I could not understand, I didn’t have words to describe how toxic my relationship was, and by that point I wasn’t even capable of relaxing long enough to take a bubble bath.
And on this particular day, standing in a large office on the sunny top floor of a Hoboken business complex, I couldn’t think of a single thing to feel grateful about. I could not bring myself, in the midst of a quick team meeting, to regurgitate some tired lie about being grateful when I didn’t feel it in my heart. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me. I felt completely broken.
Have you ever felt that way about your life? I think it’s far more common than we want to admit. Our culture teaches us to push past our limits, to focus on what we want to achieve rather than what we already have, to feel inadequate and small compared to the person next to us… so we will work harder and buy more.
We are what we repeatedly do. ~Aristotle
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~Albert Einstein
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation of all abundance. ~Eckhart Tolle
Let this become your meditation and prayer; thank God for every moment, for laughter, for tears, for everything. Then you will see a silence arising in your heart that you have not known before. That is bliss. ~Osho
FAST FORWARD TO
I am so grateful for my life.
Thank you to the Tao for the beloved mystery.
Thank you to my guides, allies, compassionate helping spirits for protection and support.
Thank you to my ancestors for pushing from behind and pulling from the front.
Thank you to the Goddess for tearing my life apart and reassembling it with such kindness.
Thank you to my trials for the irreplaceable lessons.
Thank you to my blessings for the juicy taste of sweetness.
Thank you to my teachers for inspiring me.
Thank you to my colleagues for challenging me.
Thank you to my patients for trusting me.
Thank you to my friends for choosing me.
Thank you to my family for being mine.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of it.
I am so blessed.
The change didn’t happen overnight. I had to learn how to be grateful.
For decades positive psychology researchers have studied the impacts of gratitude, reporting back with a cornucopia of positive outcomes: better immunity, lower blood pressure, improved sleep patterns, more joy and pleasure, and a greater sense of connection to community (among a host of other benefits).
You may think you’re just not hardwired for happiness, or that your life is too difficult to feel grateful, but the truth is gratitude is a habit you can develop just like any other.
Like any other change, cultivating gratitude starts by wanting it. You have to be willing to suffer through feeling awkward, and stupid, and bad at it in order to learn how to feel genuine gratitude on a daily basis. But I promise it’s worth the discomfort.
On the other side of gratitude is a life that feels worth living, no matter what external circumstances you face. When you learn how to see the blessings you have right now, and cultivate that gaze into an automatic habit, then you always have something in your life that feels good… and when the world is going through collectively tough times, being able to pick out what feels good can be life-saving.
create your own
Gratitude makes you healthier, happier, and helps you enjoy your life more. What’s not to love?
No matter how frustrated or discourage you feel right now, you have the ability to begin incorporating gratitude into your life and reaping the rewards of learning to look on the bright side. I’ve used each of the three following methods in my own journey to fall in love with life again after deep grief and trauma, and found these both easy and effective.
Gratitude Walk. When you’re feeling stressed out, put on your walking shoes or take your wheelchair out for a spin. After a few minutes outside in the fresh air moving your body and relieving stagnant Qi, you should notice that you take a big, deep, clearing breath. Now take in the world around you. What do you notice? What can you see that is pleasant? What can you hear that reminds you of joy? What can you smell that is stimulating or interesting?
What can you touch, whether a leaf or pine cone or picking a weed from the side of the road, and how do the textures make you feel? Be purposefully grateful for the many ways the world is showing up to offer you delight when you choose to look for it.
Gratitude Jar. Find any mason jar in your home, and put it on your dining table. When you eat a meal, make a point to think of at least three things you are grateful for (if need be, your food can be one of them!). When you’re done eating, write these small gratitudes on slips of paper and put them in the jar. Your gratitude will visibly accumulate, and you will easily see how many blessings you have in your life!
Gratitude Networking. Once a week, write a short message to a person you haven’t connected with recently in your network. In that message, include something you genuinely appreciate about that person. Whether it’s an aspect of their character, a memory you share, or something they did for you that positively impacted your life – show your gratitude in a real way, and tell that person what they have meant to you. This will not only make you feel good, it will improve the quality of your connections with your network.
These practices are quick, simply, easy to repeat – and they are the beginning of changing habitually negative patterns to a space of cultivating gratitude and joy in your life. When you fall off the gratitude wagon, it’s okay – just get right back on. Make gratitude a choice, and make it over and over again.
Gratitude is the one choice you will never regret making.
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