The Coach is In…

The Attitude of Gratitude

I’m having trouble finding anyone that is experiencing this year as the best year ever! Yet, without any intervention from us we are now 314 days into the year (as of this writing), or 51 days to another year. I guess this illustrates that regardless of the type of year we are having, it does move on. Every year before Thanksgiving I begin to reflect on the things I am most thankful for. I do this to ‘experience’ my gratitude.

Many years ago, when I was participating with a family member in their recovery, I learned that the first thing that an addict loses is their sense of gratitude. This also happened when I experienced times of depression – I found it difficult to find those things that I was thankful for in my life. It is the very reason I reflect on my blessings – to bring more balance to my thinking.

This year is a greater struggle finding all the things I am thankful for. There is a lot more ‘noise’ in my head – increased chaos in the world, increased chaos in our country, more sadness, more anxiety about the future; and then…my son loses his job and four days later he and his family lose their duplex to fire from a neighbor’s errant firework. That took my breath away. In a matter of hours we had two more adults and three children aged 5, 4 and 20 months living with us. It could have been a time to be whelmed over by those events, but there wasn’t time – at least not initially.

The next day I remember telling my son to pay attention to how God shows up in the hour of his greatest need. In a matter of hours from the fire a neighbor came down with $600, and the offer to activate her network of women who come together to help families during tragedy. And so it went – Go Fund Me page created, a set of bunk beds donated; clothes, cash, toys – literally out of the ‘ashes’ their lives were being put back together. The outpouring of care was incredible. There still a long way to go, but when I replay in my mind the sound of my daughter-in-law’s desperate voice the night of the fire, there is a chill that runs through me knowing what could have happened. There is also a prayer of thanksgiving knowing that they are all safe.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes imbedded with our tragedies are moments of thanksgiving? Life is a paradox, this is an example. We can experience light and dark, joy and sorrow showing up in close proximity to one another. That is why I have learned to look for the light amid the dark, or the joy amid sorrow. Sometimes, our sorrow is so great that we can’t find the joy right away. It takes time.

What are the stories we tell after a tragedy? It depends on the magnitude of the tragedy. Sometimes, it takes a moment or two until we can describe the tragedy. Sometimes, it is a lot longer until we know/understand the emotional impact. Our stories are powerful for others as they have a chance to express thanks that the tragedy did not happen to them. Our stories are powerful in our healing – the telling and re-telling helps us gain additional insight and perspective about the tragedy and its impact. My mother died when I was 29. It took me decades to understand all the ways that she influenced my life. I am grateful.

Our stories are also helpful to others in letting them know that you got through something. Sometimes we need that encouragement to know we are not alone. Those same stories help us have more empathy for others. Connected to this is our generosity which is often tied to our gratitude. I was made aware of this connection recently from someone who works in fundraising. He mentioned that there is a process they walk potential donors through to help them understand more thoroughly their gratitude and the stories behind their gratitude.  This helped me expand my understanding of healing and how multiple good things can come from tragedy, or simply come from our lives. Thank you, Rob.

Our stories weave a tapestry of our life. Like a quilt, there are many blocks with different patterns and colors representing different stories and different portions of our life. Often, our ability to see the ‘design’ of our life may not be noticeable because we are too close to a given moment or period in our life to have perspective. It takes time. Keep looking it’s there.

All of us have ‘events’ or a ‘series of events’ that challenge us. Sometimes, like when our children are struggling, or a loss of a loved one, these events can suck the life out of us. Others are more manageable based on how we have ‘trained’ ourselves to react. Whether the event is catastrophic, or more manageable, we are offered a choice of how we respond. Sometimes, in the moment, our initial reaction is, “Oh my, this _______ is awful.” After we have had a moment to reflect, sometimes we can tell ourselves that it won’t be as bad as we first thought.

How we react in these situations is often a matter of our attitude. When we are working with our attitude, it is helpful to be aware of what we are allowing in (negative) that is influencing our thoughts and our behavior. Creating a posture of gratitude has allowed me to go through each day recognizing, with greater frequency, the ‘really cool’ things and people that are in and around my life. If you aren’t getting what you want from those situations, I invite you to consider what you might receive from a more positive response.

At the core of my quality of life is the ability to have ‘spirit’, ‘countenance’, or a ‘demeanor’ of gratitude. Gratitude is the emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Gratitude seems to also go hand in hand with grace. Psychologist, Dr. Randy Kamen, refers to grace this way. “Grace is the ability to accept the pain and challenges of life while appreciating its beauty and joy.” I have found that the ability to receive and extend grace puts me in a much more positive frame of mind.

I want to share with you one final story. It illustrates a portion of my evolution with gratitude. For much of my life, when it came to situations that caused me physical or emotional pain, I wanted to get to the ‘other side’ as quickly as possible. In my mid-50’s I began to create a subtle, but important shift – the willingness to ‘sit’ with the pain of those moments for as long as it took; to ‘experience’ more of the value from those moments. While those experiences were not ‘fun,’ I did notice that I was more relaxed in those moments, knowing that I would be okay. I also knew that I would likely gain some insight that would enrich my life. In the moment of acceptance came greater ability to deal with whatever it was. Ah, the beauty of age.

Thanks for listening. I hope you will have a Thank-Full holiday season.

To a better you…