The Coach is In…
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus
I desire to write about gratitude today for several reasons. Perhaps foremost, is that this past Saturday I married my step daughter and her fiancé. Surrounded by friends and family gave me a wonderful sense of how I have been blessed. Another reason is that I know that gratitude brings a special energy to my life.
What is it about gratitude that fuels such positive energy? I will come back to that in a moment.
I was taught to ‘be thankful’ for what I had. I was taught to say ‘thank you’ when I received something, including when people did things for me. I understood that was the polite thing to do. I understood what I was being told, but don’t think I understood what it meant to be ‘thank – full’ for several years.
Like most of us, I had to understand several things before ‘gratitude’ could fully evolve within me. I had to first understand the temporal nature of most of what surrounds us. Sometimes, those things are possessions – a car, a house, clothes, etc. Sometimes, there is a temporal nature to some of our relationships. Sometimes that is a good thing, and you are glad when the relationship is over. Sometimes, it feels like a hole is in your heart when the relationship concludes.
Sometimes, it is your health that has fleeting moments; sometimes a job; your finances; a marriage; family members. I remember when I lost my first love. I was 16. I don’t know who said it, but a family member told me to ‘be happy for what you had.’ I don’t think I felt any better as a result, but the notion stuck with me.
As I headed off to college I had an understanding of what mom and dad had sacrificed so that I could go to college. It wasn’t a full understanding, that would come some years later, but I sensed that this was a big gift, impacting the rest of my life. This time I was ‘thank – full.’ I don’t know if this is true, but my suspicion is that many of us as begin to appreciate more of the things, people, and events in our lives while they are in our lives, and not just when they are not. This is part of the evolution to being more ‘grate – full.’ At least that is my hope. Because, the truth is, we never know when it or they will be gone.
I think back to a time when I had a family member and a dear friend going through addiction recovery. They said that the first thing they lost was their ability to be grateful. Instead, they were despondent, angry, depressed, full of self-loathing, and without a sense of hope. All indicated that they had lost or damaged key relationships in their lives because of their choices. There was always doubt if the damage would be repaired. Addiction is a very self-serving disease.
One of the first things they were tasked with in recovery was to create a gratitude list. I know people that keep a ‘gratitude’ journal. I like to start my day with “thank you;” “Lord, thank you for another day. Help me to put a good mark on it.”
My sense is that the act of gratitude takes us outside of our self, helping us to be less self-absorbed, and involved more with thoughts and actions outside of ourselves. I believe it is why recovering addicts start where they do. It is a way of beginning to rebuild hope in their lives.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. I believe they also experience more joy.
Is gratitude a choice? I believe it is. I recognize the horrific things that people experience and wonder how they recover, and how I would cope with what they were going through. Yet, I also know that the human spirit is an incredibly resilient part of us. With a little encouragement that spirit drives us to go on, often to overcome and to thrive again. I have always found, in times when I was struggling with my gratitude, that many others were dealing with much worse. That was the crack in my door of despair that allowed light in. As I worked to make the crack bigger, I found more light and more hope.
When my wife and I walk our garden in the evening, I marvel at the intricate detail in each of the species of plants we have on our property. Whether Day Lilies, roses, False Sunflowers with variegated leaves, Butterfly Bushes, Bee Balm, Coleus, Hydrangea, or Hosta, almost anything I can name has something at its micro level that is stunningly beautiful. I stop, marvel, and give thanks. I have learned that if I can have gratitude with the small things in life, there is a better chance that when something incredible, like the wedding of my child, comes along, I will stop, marvel, and give thanks for days and years.
To a better you…