I've been thinking a lot about gratitude these days, I suppose because gratitude is a tool I often use when I'm feeling sad about something that's happening in my life or in the larger world around me.
As I struggle with my newest stress/grief (retirement) and its accompanying moments of on and off again melancholy, I find myself repeatedly returning to gratitude to help keep me afloat. I realize that may seem counterintuitive, but I think it's simply the way I've learned to process pain, and it's an effective one.
As the waves of sadness come, I allow myself to swim deep in their darkness, even sleep there a while if necessary, but I rarely allow myself to stay long-term because I know the longer I stay in that dark space, the deeper those waters will take me and the more the darkness will consume me. So, I usually manage to slowly pull myself up and out and into the light again by consciously refocusing my thoughts on any and everything I have to be grateful for (including this uncertain chapter of my life that has me squirming, kicking, screaming, and learning more about life and myself...lol).
By riding between waves of both grief and gratitude, I effectively allow myself to process my grief in smaller steps rather than in one giant overwhelming, debilitating tsunami.
I realize this methodology may not work for everyone and it may not work with every grief, and I realize not everyone accesses positivity and gratitude as easily as I usually can, but I have used this technique many times with success, and in so doing have managed (more often than not) to A: keep myself from drowning and B: keep myself putting one foot in front of the other (floating, if you will) until I make it safely back to solid ground. "Baby steps," I repeatedly tell myself.
But perhaps instead of baby steps it would be more appropriate to look at the balance between grief and gratitude as levels of swim lessons, which means getting out of the (grief) water everyday after lessons (sadness/tears), allowing the passing of one level (of grief) before jumping right to the next, and even taking a break between each level to catch your breath and pat yourself on the back for surviving another day or making it to another level (stage).
Please understand, I don't mean to make grief sound like it's a choice, or that you are fully aware what stage of grief you are swimming in at any particular moment. I know there are times when the darkness is simply too dark to see anything but, and its at those times that we have to be brave enough to seek out help, which I'm not at all embarrassed to say I once did.
I'm merely suggesting that when you recognize you're functionally grieving, pause periodically...just long enough to remind yourself of the blessings around you (to find the light again), even as you grieve, and even when those blessings are very likely harder to see, because when you do you'll find that it helps to keep you sane and afloat.
Regardless of your stance on the idea that people may be born with a personality that tends to be more positive when responding to challenges or one that tends to be more negative (ie: seeing the glass as half full or seeing it as half empty), and regardless of whether you view gratefulness as a personality trait, an emotion, a mood, a learned behavior, or a tool for improving happiness, I think there can be little argument that learning how to cultivate gratitude, and mindfully practicing it, improves overall health and well-being and certainly increases general satisfaction with life.
So, this morning as I sat here contemplating the benefit of finding gratefulness even in some of my darkest moments, I found myself drawn to writing about what I believe gratitude is, or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, writing about the concepts I believe assist me in accessing it. My hope is that you look at each of these individual (and admittedly overlapping) concepts as a trusty roadmap for helping guide you, too, to that wonderful destination known as G.R.A.T.I.T.U.D.E.
Ok, what if you thought about gratitude in the following way:
G.R.A.T.I.T.U.D.E. = Grace, Reverence, Attitude, Thankfulness, Inner work, Time, Understanding, Decision, and Extension
G is for Grace -
a recognition of the daily grace given us by our heavenly father, and the grace we must daily work to give to our self (instead of being so hard on our self) and to others (instead of judging what we don't know).
R is for Reverence -
a profound love, respect, and admiration for divinity: for God, for the nature He created, for the miracle of life, for the gift of our existence.
A is for Attitude -
the choice to work to keep one's thoughts in check - to view life, others, and the world through a lens of positivity rather than negativity, as often as possible, knowing that positivity sends out and returns to us the goodness of life.
T is for Thankful -
the daily choice to look for, to find, and to appreciate the multitude of both little and big blessings in our lives.
I is for Inner work -
the choice to continually strive to improve one's self both emotionally and spiritually in order to understand how to better love and forgive our self and others, and by so doing, draw closer to God and become more God-like in our thoughts and actions.
T is for Time - an acute and deep seated awareness of the gift of being alive and the gift (opportunity) present, and afforded us, in every single moment.
U is for Understanding - comprehending that it is a choice to continually bring oneself back to seeing the good over the bad (even when it's hard!), and recognizing that the more we do so the easier it becomes and the more good we see.
D is for Decision -
a vow to daily practice the behaviors and routines we know help us keep ourselves in a state of appreciation and awareness of blessings. This could be prayer, meditation, taking walks/exercising, volunteer work, keeping a gratitude journal or a blessings jar, getting outside into nature, working in service professions, gardening, skimming/skipping the news, writing thank you notes and letters of appreciation, etc.
E is for Extension -
reaching out to others with kindness, compassion, and love...Listening, helping, smiling, doing for, donating, giving of our gifts in ways big and small. Extending kindness to others feeds the spirit of both giver and receiver and keeps our focus on what's good in the world and the impact we can make to that end.
Remember, it's a proven fact that what we focus on tends to expand (the universal law of attraction), so it only stands to reason that the more we focus on the positive, the more the positive in life will find us (and the more we'll see it). Your brain is designed to magnify what you fixate on, so spend some time focusing on what's good!
I welcome your thoughts, as always.
So much love to one and all,
August 24, 2022