Having an Attitude of gratitude
On February 23, 2023, at 1:11 a.m., my life turned upside down.
I woke up feeling like someone had hit me with a baseball bat on the left side of my head. But, like any sensible person, I decided to lie back down to sleep off the pain. However, I couldn't lie down because the pain worsened, and I knew something was wrong. So I leaned over to wake my husband to say, honey, something isn't right. And when he woke up, he noticed that my speech was slurred, the left side of my face was drooping, and when he tried to help me get up, I could not move my left arm or leg. I knew what was happening - at 52 years old, I was having a stroke.
In an instant, life can change. And the hard truth is we are not promised tomorrow or even the next moment. We can plan our lives and think we have all the time in the world to accomplish what we desire, but life can change in the blink of an eye. And when it does, these "pivotal moments" cause us to pause and ponder what is really important in life. It causes us to reflect on all that we are grateful for.
In full transparency, when Alex Boone called to ask me to write an article, I was at my one-week follow-up appointment for the stroke, and I thought she was calling to find out how I was doing. I had no idea she was calling for me to write an article about living a life of gratitude. You may be saying that was terrible timing because I just had a stroke, so what is there to be grateful for? But the timing was perfect because writing the article would help me focus on everything I had to be thankful for despite feeling like life had turned upside down.
So What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is being thankful and appreciative of the many things we have in life. It is a feeling of deep appreciation and recognition for the good things one experiences, big or small. It involves acknowledging the blessings in one’s life and feeling a sense of contentment as a result.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can be very beneficial in:
improving overall well-being
improving physical health
creating a positive outlook on life
feeling more confident and fulfilled
While these are all benefits we want more of, what keeps us from experiencing gratitude? Many factors can keep us from experiencing gratitude in our daily lives. Here are some common ones:
Negative thinking: Focusing on negative thoughts and feelings can make it difficult to see the good things in our lives and appreciate them.
Comparison: Comparing ourselves to others can make us feel like we don’t have as much as others, making it hard to feel grateful for what we have.
Entitlement: Feeling entitled to things can make it difficult to appreciate them. When we feel like we deserve something, we may take it for granted and not feel grateful for it.
Stress: High-stress levels can make it hard to focus on the positive things in our lives and lead to feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Busyness: When we’re too busy and constantly rushing from one thing to another, we may not take the time to pause and appreciate the good things in our lives.
Lack of awareness: Sometimes, we simply may not be aware of the good things in our lives. We may take them for granted or only recognize their value once something happens.
Ungrateful habits: Sometimes, we may have developed habits of complaining or focusing on what's wrong, making it hard to feel grateful.
By recognizing these factors, we can work to overcome them and cultivate more gratitude, which is key to long-lasting joy and fulfillment.
But aren’t we guilty of expressing gratitude when everything is going well? For example, when the outcome is what we desired - we are grateful that it all worked out. Or we are thankful that the job is going well, our relationships are thriving, our kids are excelling in school, and we’ve got lots of money in the bank. But what happens when all heck breaks loose and everything that we didn’t want to happen is happening? Are we no longer grateful?
Gratitude should not show up only when life is going well and the sun is shining brightly but also in the craziness and storms of life. That’s right, in the midst of what we don’t want and don’t like - gratitude allows us to see a glimmer of hope despite the challenges we are experiencing. But, unfortunately, it is a gift we often miss because it isn’t wrapped in pretty paper with a big red bow on it, and we are distracted by the pain, disappointment, and heartache because things are not working out as we had hoped. And while that is a normal human response, it can keep us stuck, and over time, we can become bitter and unhappy people.
You must understand that trials, tribulations, and troubles, also known as storms, are a normal part of life. No one is exempt - the rain falls on all of us. And if you can see the gift in the storms, you will be blessed and have more joy and peace because you living a “lifestyle of gratitude.”
A lifestyle of gratitude is not about one moment of feeling grateful but rather cultivating a mindset of appreciation and thankfulness for the good things in life - no matter what is happening. This mindset will keep you anchored when navigating the storms of life so you can experience success, joy, peace, and abundance despite them.
So how do we create a lifestyle of gratitude? Here are seven steps you can start using today:
Choose to look for the good. You have to be intentional and choose to look for the good when your heart is broken and life has turned upside down. It will not come naturally. For example, my stroke could have happened a few hours earlier when I was alone in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, on the airplane heading home, or while driving home from the airport late that evening. But it didn’t, which is a point to be grateful for. I am making a conscious choice to be thankful that it happened at home and that I could get help immediately. Looking for the good is a choice you can make right now.
Every day, repeat, “I am grateful.” Repeating this affirmation statement instructs your subconscious that this is how you choose to feel. It leaves an imprint in your brain, which over time, becomes a habit and will be your default response when life turns upside down. Never underestimate the power of your words in creating your reality. And when you say the affirmation with a smile, it will lift your spirits.
Keep a gratitude journal. Write down one to three things you are grateful for each day. This is a crucial step to take. We all naively think we will remember those good moments, but it isn’t natural to look for the good when life turns upside down. But your journal is the proof that can encourage you when the storms come, and you feel discouraged and overwhelmed. You can go through your journal, remind yourself of your blessings, and keep moving forward.
Reframe negative thoughts. When you dwell on negative thoughts, try reframing them in a more positive light. Focus on the outcomes you desire rather than the details of what is happening that you don’t like. This was tough for me during the first two weeks following my stroke. I had to make a conscious effort to not dwell on the fact that I had a stroke and to shift to focusing on healing and fully recovering. Negative thoughts can weigh us down, while positive ones are energizing and empowering. But, again, we get to choose which one we focus on.
Express gratitude every day. Tell the people in your life that you appreciate them. Write thank-you notes, send texts or emails, or express it in person. Someone needs to be encouraged, and as you express your gratitude, you will feel even more grateful.
Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally is vital for overall well-being. And being compassionate and forgiving of yourself can help you feel more positive and grateful.
Surround yourself with positivity. Spend time with people you enjoy and who make you laugh, and read books that uplift you and inspire you. Leave yourself sticky notes or hang decorative pictures with inspiring quotes. When your environment is filled with positive things, it will influence your mood and mindset.
By incorporating one or all of these steps into your daily life, you can cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude that will keep you anchored no matter what is going on in your life.
Now a word of caution...
Living a lifestyle of gratitude is not for the fainthearted because it is the opposite of our natural human tendencies to focus on what isn't going well or what we don't have. So, if you want it, you will have to work at intentionally creating one, getting rid of your old way of thinking, and responding to the challenges in your life differently. And while it will be work, it will be rewarding, and you will live a more fulfilling and joyous life.
At the end of the day, I have learned while enduring the storms of a divorce, losing all of my material possessions in a fire, the death of loved ones, dealing with life-threatening health issues, and so much more that there is always something to be grateful for - no matter what is going on. Despite the heartaches and disappointments, we can choose to have a mindset of gratitude that says it may not be well right now - but it will be well, which is something to be grateful for.