Accessing the Power of Gratitude

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become a daily habit. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: the beauty of nature, our family, friends who listen and really hear, our bodies, food and shelter, the ability to read and write, the benefits of technology, holidays and of course, chocolate. What’s on your list?

Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

• Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.

• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.

• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.

• Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.

• When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.

• Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.

As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Finding Meaning in “Negative” Events

There’s a Taoist story of an old farmer whose horse inexplicably ran away. His neighbors said, “What bad luck!” to which he replied, “Perhaps.”

The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it a wild horse. The farmer’s son tried to ride it, fell, and broke his leg. Once again, the neighbors sent their sympathy: “How terrible this is.” “Perhaps,” the farmer said.

The following day, military officials came to the village to draft every young man into the army. With his leg broken, the farmer’s son was spared from service.

There’s always more than one way to look at what life brings you, and for every event that seems negative there is a way to reframe it so that you can see the positive. And that can be a very good thing: your experiences become more meaningful, purposeful and valuable when you are able to recognize the gift contained in adversity.

The trouble is that, during the time you are experiencing adversity it’s often challenging, if not impossible, to see the proverbial silver lining.

So, how do you find the silver lining when troubles arrive at your doorstep?”

See the opposite.

Every day may not be good, but there is good to be found in every day—and a hidden gift in all our experiences. Search for the positive interpretation of the event.

Doing this might seem, at first, alien to you, but thinking outside of your initial interpretation of the event, and learning to be proficient at finding meaning in the challenges that come your way, is an excellent exercise in expanding your view of what’s possible.

Ask yourself lots of questions.

Adversity can serve you in positive ways, and one of the best ways to open yourself up and leverage negative experiences is by asking questions like:

  • How can I use this experience to learn (and change) something about myself? Positive or negative, our experiences are our guides and teachers, and can help us, if we pay attention to the lessons, to improve the quality of our lives.
  • How could this negative experience affect me in a positive way? This can be a challenging question to ask when you feel stuck in the middle of an uncomfortable situation. But being a partner with your pain allows you to open up to the beneficent possibilities instead of merely wallowing in the negativity.
  • How will this make me a stronger person? It’s not about handling difficult circumstances better than others (a mere ego boost), but how an expanded perspective empowers you to be a more capable and resilient spouse, parent, employee, entrepreneur, etc.
  • How does this negative event (and your reaction to it) reflect your life purpose? Sometimes, what we initially perceive as being an obstacle is actually a guide changing our course and steering us to our true path.
  • What’s the opportunity in the negative experience? Personal/professional growth? Developing a thicker skin? Service to others? Connection? A call to adventure? A mindset shift? Reassessing negative situations means converting them into something productive.

Be grateful.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes. —William James

If not for the negative event itself, be grateful for the insight or lesson learned.

Being present in the moment and appreciating all aspects of your life can act as a calming salve when times get rough.

And remember: finding the silver lining in every cloud doesn’t mean ignoring feelings associated with the event—quite the opposite. It means acknowledging and experiencing those feelings fully AND leveraging them to your advantage.

Giving meaning to events, both positive and negative ones, is empowering. A positive life skill is gained when we realize that for every single thing that happens in our lives, we get to choose whether it’s good or bad, whether it will weaken or strengthen us.

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications