Gratitude is simple: find something to appreciate and express that appreciation. I am sure that you have heard the self-help mantra around changing your life with “an attitude of gratitude.” Sometimes we say that with a bit of a snarky smile, sometimes we say it very genuinely; how you treat that phrase is less important than how you treat the meaning, and while it sounds trite it is absolutely true. Changing you attitude can change your life.
Last week the office I was in shut down midday because of the snow and ice extravaganza occurring in the area (an area not accustomed to snow and ice in that way). Many people had very stressful and long drives home. I went back to the hotel where I was staying and settled in to work by the window and watch the snow. Before I left the office I noticed something about the people around me (I noticed a lot of things about the people around me, but this is what is relevant for this conversation), we became who we were when faced with a dramatic change of plans: some people took care of those around them, some people cursed the weather and complained about the inconvenience and some people looked out the window and observed the beauty of the scene. Having an attitude of gratitude doesn’t change the circumstances you find yourself in, it lets you be the person you want to be by providing a focus on the positive and moving you away from reactive fear.
Fear is at the core of many of our emotions when they are expressed negatively. Sadness, anger, frustration, nothing is bad about experiencing any of these, but when the experience is grounded in fear they may come out in a way that is harmful to ourselves and to those around us. Having an attitude of gratitude provides something of an emotional safety blanket letting us know that we are safe, that there are good things in our lives even when they feel bleak, and that we are not stuck in whatever the discomfort is forever. I am grateful for my friends all the time and that reminds me that if my flight is cancelled and I can’t get home there are people who can take care of my children. I don’t like the situation but I am not afraid and I can stay calm, thoughtful and proactive.
I know that there are many people out there who will read this and say that sometimes there is nothing to be positive about, there is so much horror that there is no room for gratitude. That’s true and I am not suggesting that we find a way to be grateful for even those things that are horrors, or even the things that we just don’t like. I was not grateful when someone broke into my car and stole my computer, but I was grateful for a loving husband who could provide comfort and reassurance. Gratitude is a habit, a skill, and when you work on building a skill over time, eventually you may find that it serves you even in situations where you could not have imagined it being of any use. When you make gratitude a part of every day you build an appreciation for life, for yourself, for the things you can accomplish, for the things that are done for you and it becomes easier to find those resources to bring you strength when you need them.
Gratitude is not about finding something big to appreciate, or getting what you want all the time, gratitude is not an after the fact experience. Gratitude is about appreciation of what you do have, right now, in the moment and space that you are living in and for most of us there is almost always something that we can appreciate: running water is amazing, hot water when you want it is incredible, something to eat, a kind word from a friend, a tree, the sun and the moon, shelter. These are all basic things and most of us are fortunate enough to take them for granted. But they are also amazing things and should be appreciated, we should be grateful, we should notice how incredible so much of our life is and we should take that sense of wonder, appreciation and richness into all of our actions. It can truly, deeply, profoundly change your life!