Still, and Perpetually, GRATEFUL.
Although frequently used interchangeably, gratitude and thankfulness aren’t synonymous. Thankfulness is a reaction, whereas gratitude is a way of being. Gratitude includes thankfulness, but it also includes appreciation of life even when nothing happens or negative events occur.
Today we’re going to talk about an attitude of gratitude. It’s pretty easy to remember to be grateful around Thanksgiving, right? Everyone shares what we’re grateful for, and while we really are grateful, we quickly forget after that day to keep maintaining awareness of the gratitude opportunities available to us. Typically, we’re grateful when someone gives us something, or does something for us, but beyond that, most of us don’t give gratitude much thought. We take so much of what we have for granted, distracted by busyness or the next big thing and fail to notice the tremendous abundance around us.
We’re also living in a difficult era. Many people are struggling with renormalizing following the pandemic, shutdowns, government upheavals, political divisiveness, and constant uncertainty. An alarming number of people are functioning in a constant state of fear or anxiety and in that state, gratitude isn’t usually the first emotion that comes to mind. But because gratitude is a positive emotion, developing an attitude of gratitude can actually help calm those fears and anxieties.
To live a mindful life of meaning and purpose, we have to develop an attitude of gratitude. Practicing gratitude every day, for all experiences, is good for you and for others. When you really feel grateful, that emotion stimulates the brain, telling it that all is well. Your brain then turns on the parasympathetic system, which releases feel good hormones into your system that lower your heart rate and your blood pressure. You feel even better!
Mindfulness is all about presence, being aware of the moment and what you are experiencing right now. How many things are you grateful for in this exact moment? As experiences occur, are you able to feel grateful for something that occurred in that experience? An attitude of gratitude includes feeling grateful for all experiences, even those that we may perceive as being negative. Wait, what? Why in the world would you be grateful for a negative experience?
I am not saying you should feel grateful for a terrible experience itself, but to look for meaning in those experiences and be grateful for those. For example, during my teen years, I lived in poverty. I lived in government-subsidized housing and had to go to work at 13 so I could actually have clothes to wear to school. I was married at 18, and we were very poor for a while, but both worked incredibly hard to pull ourselves out of that condition within a few years. Fast forward a few more years and we were living quite comfortably in the nicest neighborhood I had ever lived in. Shopping with a couple of my new middle-income neighbors, I came across expensive crystalware in a department store. I had no idea why this caught my attention, but I started collecting crystal after that. I began with Waterford glassware and vases and even little bells and continued collecting various items for several years. These shiny things in my hutch that cast off beautiful prisms of color made me feel luxurious, maybe even a little decadent.
Then in 1992, the Landers earthquake occurred. Violent and terrifying, every belonging in my home flew somewhere. Including all of my fancy crystals. The crystal items in my hutch flew out with such force, they dented my dining room table as they shattered everywhere. Now of course I was grateful that none of us were injured in the earthquake. But I was upset about my shiny things. I am nothing if not determined, so I went back out and over time started replacing all of the pieces I had lost. And then the Northridge earthquake hit in 1994 and I lived only a few miles from the epicenter. All of my crystal pieces shattered again.
I admit, I was a little slow on comprehending the lesson here. Mindfulness includes finding meaning in our experiences, but my dogged determination initially distracted me from looking for that. Instead, I was planning out how I could replace the crystal yet again, and this time, decided I would put it away in the bottom cabinets of the kitchen so that the pieces wouldn’t become projectiles in the next earthquake. And that’s when it hit me. If they were in the bottom cabinets of the kitchen, I wouldn’t be able to see them every day. And that’s what I needed. To see them. But why?
I finally figured out that seeing those expensive, shiny objects was a reminder to me that I was no longer poor. I certainly wasn’t rich, but I didn’t have to fear poverty returning in the foreseeable future. I was never aware of that before losing the pieces, not once but twice. I didn’t replace the crystal that time. And while I was not grateful that we were hit with two powerful earthquakes, I was again grateful that my family was safe and uninjured. Beyond that, however, I was deeply grateful for the underlying lesson. I have never needed a material thing since to remind me of how blessed I am. I can enjoy and appreciate the simpler things in life fully and have confidence that I am not at the mercy of some unseen force that can change my trajectory.
Much more recently, I was able to find quite a bit to be grateful for during the pandemic and shutdowns, which definitely helped me ward off flat-out depression, but have struggled for almost two years with finding gratitude relating to the attack on the U.S. Capitol building. It baffled me because it wasn’t like I was physically there or knew anyone who had been hurt, but it disturbed me deeply and it took me awhile to figure out why it was generating a strong sense of fear.
What was at stake for me was security. The political hostilities leading up to the insurrection and the event itself shook my perception of my country. I didn’t realize that the little voice in my head was screaming warning, we’re going to become a fascist state or civil war is looming or, well, who knows what, much of which was probably coming through the media. But even so, my life wasn’t directly affected in any way, so it took me awhile to realize I needed to address my feelings.
I started searching for the lesson to be grateful for or something that happened afterwards to feel gratitude about and frankly, it took a really long time, but the discomfort of being anxious pushed me to keep searching, both internally and externally. History shows us that this is not the first time we’ve been divided nor turned to violence to try to solve our problems. Political power has always been contentious and religious conflicts have flourished since the country’s inception as has unfortunately, racism.
So while deeply disturbing to witness, it’s not the end of times as many pundits keep screaming in public. I can be grateful that democracy held, at least for now. I can be grateful that the extreme events we’ve experienced over the past few years have allowed a lot of serious issues to surface which hopefully means they can be addressed. I can be grateful that most people here, regardless of political party affiliation, were horrified by what occurred, indicating that people are still basically decent and not that different from me. Once I shifted my thoughts to gratitude, my fears dissipated, and I’m very grateful for that, too. Author Eileen Caddy said that “Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into those lives of all those around you.”
Gratitude provides many benefits. During the multiple studies that have been conducted on happiness, which Shawn Achor really propagated with his Harvard class on happiness, and which is now replicated in most universities, one of the methods that proved successful in increasing individual happiness was gratitude. Very specifically, identifying three things each day that you’re grateful for turned out to increase your overall happiness level. And happiness has been shown to improve your health, focus, mood and productivity.
But Brother David Steindl-Rast, monk and interfaith scholar said, “…it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” You can keep a gratitude journal or a gratitude jar to get started. Simply write down three new things you are grateful for each day. They don’t have to be complicated. The sun, trees, water, your breath, your family - it’s pretty easy to find three things to be grateful for each day. I like the jar, I just use a mason jar, because I write down the things I’m grateful for on small pieces of paper, fold them up and drop them in. If ever I’m feeling down, or even slipping into a pity party, I can go to my jar and pull out a piece of paper. I’m immediately pulled back into gratitude as I read something I was grateful for in the past.
They discovered in the studies that one or two things might help you feel momentarily better, but three things you’re grateful for had an impact on the brain’s neuropathy, so definitely identify three each day. In other words, writing down three things to be grateful for actually rewires the brain over time. And that moves you into an attitude of gratitude.
According to John O’Leary, “The number one joy indicator, the one thing that will predict whether someone feels joy in their life or not, is the practice of gratitude.” You can start creating an attitude of gratitude today. Even if negative experiences occur, we find the meaning in those experiences which we’re grateful for and from which we learn valuable lessons. We actively seek objects, people or events every day to feel grateful for and by practicing mindfulness, we’re consistently aware of the abundance in our lives. This practice of gratitude perpetuates more gratitude and continues to lift us higher on good days and pull us up on the tougher days. A practice of gratitude is free, simple, and has no side effects, so why not try it? You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
This podcast is part of the Airwave Media podcast network. We’d deeply appreciate your support at patreon.com/amindfulmoment. Our podcast is now available to view on our YouTube Channel, so be sure to follow us there and on Instagram @amindfulmomentpodcast.
A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.