Let’s set the scene.
I’m sitting in a restaurant in Brussels, Belgium looking out at the Grand Place through an old window. There’s a fire burning beside me and a nice couple from Finland that I’ve been chatting with on and off. I’m sipping hot tea on a chilly day in March with a book on my lap and a notebook sprawled out on the wooden table. I scribble these words with a pen that’s just about running out of ink. My mind is racing, contemplating and learning.
Today’s lesson: The healing power of gratitude.
I came to Europe with my heart dripping in my hands, seeping and broken as I desperately tried to hold the shattered pieces in place. I knew I was seeking answers, but I couldn’t possibly imagine any cure for the way I felt. Recent adversity had put a serious dent in my financial stability, but I knew despite that stress I needed to go on this trip. I needed to be reminded of how big the world really is, even if it felt like my world had fallen apart.
This concept of our own world is far too common. It’s what leads us to lose sight of the big picture.
Too often we build the foundation of our existence upon routine and comfort. That is our reality, our world. The relationships we keep, the career we maintain and the home we have become the focal points for how we define our blessings. That is until you lose one of those things or even all of them. Then you’re likely to drown in the pit that is your own confusion, loneliness, sadness, and sense of defeat.
You inadvertently start to ask what I am going to refer to as Pity Questions.
“What is wrong with me?”
“Why did I deserve this?”
It’s ok to feel that way (for a little while) because your strength comes from knowing how to get out of that pit, and the answer is gratitude. That is the glue that pulls together all the pieces of the brokenness that you feel. It’s what you’re always searching for, and what I was searching for too.
Gratitude is more than feeling grateful when your life continues as usual or when you receive great blessings. Feeling grateful when you land the promotion, have your first child, or kiss your bride on your wedding day is natural. That’s easy gratitude.
The gratitude that needs cultivating is what you seek when your life is in turmoil and your heart is in the wreckage.
It’s the gratitude that rocks you to your core. It reminds you of the immeasurable amount of goodness you have in your life. It brings the blessings we commonly overlook (like health, opportunity and family) and forces those remarkable gifts to the forefront of your mind. It’s the gratitude that turns your Pity Question of “Why me?” into a Grateful Question of “Why me?!”
“Why do I have so much when others have so little?”
“Why do I live with freedom and opportunity when others do not?”
“Why do I have good health while others are sick and struggling?”
“Why have I been gifted with such incredible family and friendships?”
“Why me? Why DO I deserve this?”
You don’t. None of us do. We are given far more than we ever deserve. Life isn’t about getting what you deserve. It’s about living with gratitude and another really important word, grace.
That’s what it means to receive so much that we even have the capacity to lost sight of it. In many ways, life has dealt you (and me) an incalculable amount of grace. Despite our mistakes and indiscretions, the sun has shined upon us. The least we can do in return is LIVE with grace.
Grace as a verb is defined like this: “To do honor by one’s presence.”
That’s pretty freaking powerful, isn’t it? Do honor by your presence. Be honorable. Be strong. Be honest. Be brave. Be compassionate. Be resilient. Be selfless. Be loving.
Find it deep in your soul and push it to the surface, even on the hard days. Even on the days where you feel like the world is out to get you. It isn’t. Remembering gratitude and opening your heart to it forces an amount of perspective you can’t gain otherwise. It heals you.
Gratitude can also make you feel more love and compassion towards the one person you probably grant the least of it to; yourself. During times of betrayal, rejection and abandonment it’s easy to berate ourselves with blame and feel disappointed in who we are. But the reality is that learning to love and be thankful for every part of ourselves heals that entire perception.
It reverses the situation from looking at yourself for blame to looking within yourself for comfort, strength and confidence.
So how can you nurture gratitude and use it as the medicine for all of life’s challenges?
It’s definitely a work-in-progress, but these 5 ways can help you get there.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
I am obsessed with this. I not only bought myself one, but I sent them to a lot of my friends too. There are three lines for each day where you write down three reasons you are grateful. It’s a habit that trains you to focus on what you have, not what you think you’re supposed to have. I do it every morning when I have my coffee at work. Some days, I have fun stories with strangers to share or big life changes that I’m thankful for. Other days when I struggle all I can muster up are things like, health, family, and a job. But that’s OK. Because it’s something. It’s conditioning your brain.
How to Buy: It’s on Amazon for $6.29 🙂
Nothing brings you back to center like being smacked in the face with how fortunate you are. Also, this action in itself champions the motto: Live with grace. Be kind to others. There are so many opportunities to volunteer at local shelters, churches, animal shelters and more. If you have a skill (labor, construction, cooking, knitting, childcare, music, even technology, and art) SHARE it. The reciprocal gratitude spreads like wildfire when you give your time for others.
Volunteer Search: https://www.volunteermatch.org/
3. Go to therapy.
The sign above is amazing and true. If you are having trouble finding gratitude in your life, it’s probably because your mind and heart are all clogged up with a lot of struggles that you need to get to the bottom of. There’s no shame in talking it out. Sometimes you do have to break yourself down a good bit before you can build yourself up into the person you want to become. Also, mental illness can seriously impair our ability to interpret and comprehend what is happening to us. It wipes all of the perspective out of the brain and centralizes on pain and fear. Therapy and proper treatment can quiet that noise and allow gratitude to play its beautiful music in your mind.
Find a therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
4. If you’re at all faith-driven, cultivate it.
Jewish, Christian, Buddist or even just somewhat spiritual, if you have a faith in something bigger than yourself the practice is oozing with gratitude. It’s one of the strongest ways you can feel it. Thankfulness to a creator for the very fact that you GET to be alive is like the pinnacle of gratitude. It’s the grand freaking prize.
How do you do that? Well, that’s up to you. Sometimes I prefer the picture above, hands up in a room full of humans belting out Christian rock songs. Other times it’s a quiet night in bed with a Max Lucado book and a highlighter. For you, it probably looks completely different. No matter what faith you choose or how you choose to follow it, pulling it close to your heart almost always ignites the fire of love, gratitude, and trust in your soul. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we are loved, we were chosen and we are on the path that was created just for us.
5. Lastly, take time to reflect.
It’s easy to let thoughts of frustration and disappointment take control when you only sit at the surface level of your brain. That’s where all of the tangible, right-in-front-of-your-face thoughts go. Gratitude is deeper than that. It’s a level you have to actively try to get to. It’s the perspective you can only gain from trying to see it. You have to think. You have to take a breather. You have to listen to your mind.
So as I sit in this cafe, sipping my tea in this beautiful little city, I close my eyes and slowly start to feel my heart fill up.
I pull into that gratitude and I let it wash over me. I let it heal me, knowing it will take time.
But it will be worth the journey.