Posted by: Ed Deiss | September 27, 2016

Radical Gratitude

Always check on my trio before I call it a night. Look at them sleeping and say goodnight, smile, and head back down the hall. Pictures being taken in my head. The early days of being a single dad, would do the same even when they were not in their rooms. I know, sounds crazy. Seeing as I thought it best to stay in the home our kids have been growing up in, was not feeling too grateful as memories would come through my conscience of what was yet adjusting to the reality of what’s now. There was grief, anger, hurt, brokenness, and other emotions that leave scars.  Had a couple of job losses to overcome as well, hard to lose what was and be grateful. Was not feeling it, however realized I could choose to be grateful.

Whether it's Montana to Clark or just Dad to Son...grateful for these days, always a touchdown

Whether it’s Montana to Clark or just Dad to Son…grateful for these days, always a touchdown

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We all can appreciate and understand the importance of gratefulness, and there is evidence that we are affected by our own ingratitude.  However when the unexpected crisis shows up at your door, this grateful mindset all but disappears.  It is important to acknowledge the anguish, pain, and grief you are experiencing as you let go; it is certainly understandable to indulge in negative feelings.  It is natural to wonder ‘with things this wrong, what really do I have to feel grateful about?’

There is a difference in feeling and being grateful; a radical difference. Being grateful grows from the inside out so that it becomes part of who you are not just something you feel and do. As it is engrained and part of the fabric of many Asian nations and cultures, I grew up with it seeing it in action. It involves having a deep appreciation for everyone and everything around you realizing that life is made better by so many people, things and events that too often go unnoticed.  It provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by living in our own head too much and temporary circumstances.  As I said goodnight to each of my kids, though not in their rooms those nights thinking I did not sign up for this, I was reminded that it is precisely under life altering and adverse conditions I had the most to gain being grateful; decided to even write a letter to myself in 10 years.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., psychology professor and author of Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity conveys that trials and suffering can actually refine and deepen gratefulness if we allow them to show us not to take things for granted.  Though demoralized, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, being radically grateful helps us cope with hard times. It does not come easily or naturally in a crisis; sure is easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one “feels” grateful that he or she has gone through a divorce, lost a job or a home or good health, or says goodnight to stuffed animals in empty bedrooms. Think about the worst times in your life, the sorrows, losses, sadness, anger and appreciate where you are now.  You are still breathing and have persevered through this time, been resilient with an eye of the tiger, endured the trial, got through the trauma, survived the bad relationship, and are coming out of the storm and fog

No matter what happens, if you “dig deep” you will discover as I did there is really plenty for which to be thankful. As compiled by Laura Belmont, M.S. LPC these are the top habits of people who remain steadfast in their ability to be grateful, and can temper the blows life throws at them:

Grateful people don’t expect that life is going to give them everything they deserve – They realize that good things do not always happen to good people, and they have given up the notion that life “owes them anything more than it can offer.”  The question is not if life is unfair, but can we move on in spite of it.

They do not have preconditions to their happiness – They do not think “If this happens only then I will be happy.” They understand happiness is not coming from the outside, but from within. They focus more on their adjustment to what happens rather than try to change what can not be changed.

People who are grateful have realized that you can not have the rainbow without the rain – Furthermore, they know that you don’t have honey without the bee, and you can’t have the rose without the thorns. They see rainy days as a normal part of life rather than an aberration, and learn from the rain rather than just wait for it to go away. They admire the beauty of the rose even though it has its thorny side, and savor the sweet taste of honey even though the bee can sting. Realizing you can not have one without the other, they are grateful for both.

Grateful people have hope -No matter what happens, hope is not lost. They realize the future is uncertain, and while they plan for it, they do not try to micromanage outcomes that are beyond their sphere of influence. They take comfort in the fact that once the sun sets, it rises the next day. They have faith that there is more to life.

Those who are steeped in bitterness and grudges have no space in their heart to be grateful – Forgiving your former spouse for past actions and/or behavior, forgiving your parents for making choices that are hard to reconcile, or other injustices are all parts of the gratitude equation. Forgive others for not acting or being like you had hoped. Perhaps set limits on your interaction with them, or distance yourself altogether as in the case of abuse, but carrying the torch of bitterness is going to hurt you more than them.

People who are grateful know that a grateful attitude takes work – Gratefulness does not always come naturally, especially in the most challenging times. In such times, grateful people work on keeping a good perspective. They might read affirmations, seek support from others, and/or get help for their sadness or anxiety. Some will seek counseling and do not shy away from the effort it takes.

Grateful people have healthy thinking habits – They go by the motto,“Think Straight Feel Great!” They can separate their perceptions from the facts and separate rational from victim-like irrational ways of thinking. For example, they will replace victim self- talk such as “They make me so mad to victor self-talk such as “I was mad when they did that.”

Grateful people are flexible in their thinking – People who think flexibly are at an advantage in life, as flexibility is the key to growth and wisdom. They don’t cling stubbornly with ways of thinking that do not work, and do not need to see a shift in attitude as meaning a personal defeat and referendum of how wrong they used to be. They realize they can choose their perceptions and have a right to change their minds. With this mentality, the doors that close yield others that now become open.

People who love to learn tend to be grateful – Each setback or unforeseen life event offers us lessons, and grateful people focus more on the lessons they can get out of each situation rather than the disappointments. After all, life is a great teacher and teaches us things that no one ever could. Even mistakes and failures are seen as learning opportunities.

Grateful people define their self-worth by their determination and their dreams, not their regrets and disappointments – A grateful mindset has no room for excessive self-recrimination and low self-esteem. People who are stuck in past regrets or seeing themselves as having failed badly in certain areas of their lives will not be able to be truly grateful. Positive self-esteem sets the foundation for gratefulness.

I remember the day after losing my job in 2009. With all that was going on around me at the time, felt as if the sky was falling. That day, June 1, 2009 went with my youngest daughter, having just graduated pre-school, to a park and had one of the best days ever. Swings, slides, stories, picnic lunch, staring and talking about the clouds. It was a beautiful day, and the only Irish in me did not want to let it get away.

As many days have come and gone since that one, it certainly has not got away.  My wish is these days won’t for you either.

Until next time,

Ed

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