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The Secret to Gratitude (Even When It's Hard)

It is the season for gratitude, and there is a secret to achieving it. Still, what if your business is struggling? What if you are overwhelmed and barely keeping your head above water with all the demands? What if your house is a chaotic mess and you are expecting the entire family (and all their judgements about your imperfect space) in a week? Yes, even then, you can still achieve a state of gratitude. Especially then.

Gratitude has been shown to alter our perceptions, lift our mood, help us focus, increase our productivity, creativity and motivate us. It even improves our health! Who wouldn't go to any length for that list of benefits? Apparently, too many of us.

Not all gratitude is created equal. There's the daily gratitude journal where we write down a brief list of what we are glad is in our life. There's the financial bonuses and thanks we give to our overworked team who have been busting it for the greater good. Then there’s the (often obligatory) “thank you” we send to clients once a year. And, of course, there are the high expectations we place on getting together with family for a long weekend where we can (in theory) be grateful we are connected.

So, when we are faced with a situation where we believe we ought to express gratitude, but it feels so awkward, or even alien to us, how can we generate the gratitude that fills us up, and builds bridges with others?

The Secret to Creating Gratitude:

  1. Hold an awareness we all are connected, and everything is working for our good

  2. Appreciate the “ordinaries” equally with the miracles

  3. Applaud routine actions rather than exceptional effort

  4. Recognize how scarce appreciation is when we are surrounded by conflict, criticism, fear and doubt

We need the salve of gratitude to heal the wounds of stress, isolation, loss, uncertainty, worry, doubt, and even resentment, that, left to their devices, feast on our souls.

The Rituals of Gratitude

Rituals are not proof of true feeling. Thanksgiving is one of those rituals. However, it is certainly not the only one. These rituals can provide a container for the feeling of gratitude to be expressed, but more often than not, more effort goes into the ritual than embodying its intended result.

The high-pressure expectations we have on one another, and ourselves, most especially, can create more disappointments than heartwarming moments. This highlights how we have not been doing our gratitude-building work all year, putting undue pressure on us when we need to get into gratitude urgently.

Happily it’s not too late. Make gratitude itself the ritual.

Make gratitude itself the ritual.

Gratitude lives in the present moment, whether we like it or not, and appreciates everything exactly as it is – even struggle and isolation. Gratitude does not practice denial. It does not wait for the perfect moment to express. It flows out as a natural way of being, even though it can take a little practice to find the right notes.

Let Gratitude Do the Work

Many of us are relying on something outside of us - be it God, our family, a new certification, or just hard work to keep us safe, happy and successful. We strive to get the relationship, house, promotion, the new business, or our retirement, which we believe will make us grateful when it happens. The beauty of gratitude is that it doesn't need something to happen before it is possible. Not only that, the more we practice gratitude in spite of, rather than because of, our circumstances, the more we receive in our life that inspires gratitude. Don't believe me? Try it.

The beauty of gratitude is that it doesn't need something to happen before it is possible.

Let Gratitude Be Thankful For It All

Life is unpredictable. Crappy things happen that break our hearts, scare us, and leave us trying to pick up the pieces. These experiences seem like the most inappropriate time to be grateful, since we want gratitude to be our result when good things happen, not the agent of change it actually is.

We want gratitude to be our result when good things happen, not the agent of change it actually is.

When we have been practicing gratitude during the good times and the in between times, then when things fall apart we have built the muscle of gratitude that can carry us across the dark night of our soul. When we are thankful for the opportunity to build the muscle of gratitude, we begin to see through the apparent curses to the hidden blessings. 

Remember That Gratitude Does Not Whine

If you are resisting gratitude because you "just don't feel very grateful right now" or are feeling a twinge of self-pity that things are not the way we wish they were, remember this: nothing is permanent except when we hold on to it in our mind. Gratitude is stronger and far more resilient than any temporary situation. It is the most powerful tool any of us have for moving through difficulties quickly and mostly unscathed.

Invite the Gratitude Which is Always Seeking

When we are always looking for every opportunity to express new appreciation and gratitude, our lives are more fulfilling, inspiring and joyful.

A friend who kept a gratitude journal for this reason recently confessed her growing boredom with the activity. As we discussed her gratitude practice, she realized she was focusing on things in her life that were readily obvious to her, and then repeating them, rather than looking for fresh ones. We agreed, that would be boring after a while.

I suggested a gratitude journal with prompts to help her break out of her rut.

Allow Gratitude To Provide Constant Healing

Many have said that the most powerful prayer is the prayer that simply says, “Thank you.”  So, let me pray with you:

Thank you for being in my life.

Thank you for your strength, support and advice.

Thank you for challenging my ideas and beliefs I have been holding onto and are limiting my growth.

Thank you for pushing me towards my full potential.

Thank you for irritating the places in me that need to be healed so I can be aware that they are still hurting me.  

And, lastly, thank you for loving me and being connected to me in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

I know you will respect me, and I will respect you. Together we are stronger, and can do the most important work of all – healing one another with the love that knows no distance.

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