Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Of all the spiritual practices I have tried, the simple practice of cultivating gratitude has had the most power to transform my life.
Many years ago I was in a terrible funk. I do not remember the exact circumstances, but I was feeling down and discouraged. It was not a case of my glass being half full or half empty; I didn’t even have a glass, or even a paper cup.
I do not remember if someone got tired of listening to me complain, and suggested this, or I stumbled upon the idea in a book. But somehow I knew to start making a list of all that I was grateful for.
I do remember writing the list. Whatever it was that was bothering me, I set it aside and started to list the good things in my life. And by the time I had over 50 items on the list, my deep dissatisfaction was transformed into a euphoric joy that made everything about my life feel completely different.
It really is all about the attitude!
Since writing that first gratitude list, there have been many occasions in my life that I have needed to shift my focus from what is wrong with everyone and everything around me to what is right about them and what I am grateful for. Sometimes it seems like there is a powerful force, a kind of gravity of the spirit, that pulls my thoughts, attitude and emotions ever downward; away from the positive and toward ever increasing negativity.
Have you ever had the experience of noticing that you are complaining about everything and everyone? And even though you might even realize that you are carrying on like a complete jerk, you are completely unable to stop?
Have you ever felt like everyone in your life, including your spouse, your parents, your children are a bunch of losers who just can’t get it right? That you would love to practice some positive reinforcement if they could only do something, anything, that was positive?
I have felt this way all too often, and to be sure the problem has not been my family members! The problem was my attitude toward the others, my expectations of them, and even of reality itself.
When I start blaming others and feeling like the problem has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with “them,” it is time to look in the mirror, and change the only person I can change: myself.
Certainly to blame is human. We read about the problem in one of the first stories ever told, an account of creation in the book of Genesis, in the Bible. Both Adam and Eve took bites of the apple, and when God questions them, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the snake.
The problem with blaming others for our misery is that is leaves us completely powerless to change things. It makes us victims of our circumstances. Sure, we can phone a friend to vent or try to get sympathy for what is bothering us, and we might feel better for a while. As someone who has worn out too many friends with too much complaining, I recommend not doing this often.
Instead take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Then start listing everything that is good in your life. Even if items number 1 and 2 are the paper and the pen, start writing them down. Even if you can only think of small, silly things. Take inventory of what you do have, not what is lacking. Try to see the up-sides of the personality traits that drive you crazy, and write them on your list. Keep writing until your mood lifts and your tension eases.
Studies show that gratitude has several important health benefits, like reducing depression, reducing anxiety, improving sleep, improving cardiac health, and strengthening memory.
There are so many circumstances that are out of our control. Terrible things can happen in life. People we love can be irritating. But we can take charge of our own happiness by using one simple practice. That practice is cultivating gratitude.
Have you ever been able to change the way you experience life by cultivating gratitude? Tell us about it in the comments, below.