I try not to let things bug me for very long. But sometimes, I’ll let a frustration or difficulty hang around a little too long and just sit there inside me. About the only way I know to get past the anxiety and stress caused by clinging to those things is to take the time to give thanks… not just for the obvious, like food, but for the thousands of fortunate moments, the multitude of blessings that surround me.
That’s not always as easy as it sounds. I tend to hold on to and remember the bad things much more easily than the good. As I think about it today, I know that I need to and want to make thankfulness an everyday habit. I think it’s a skill that can be learned and developed (much like riding a bike or learning a second language). Here’s some of the ways I think one can develop an attitude of gratitude:
1. Start writing down all of the things I’m grateful for.
Don’t allow anything negative to sit on this list. This shouldn’t be a list of things that I’m grateful for because I “don’t” have to do it. For example, don’t write things like: “I’m grateful I don’t have to eat lima beans every meal” or “I’m grateful that I’m not as fat as that guy sitting over there.” That’s gratitude based on a negative premise. Instead, focus on things like “I’m grateful that I have a car to drive” or “I’m grateful that I got to see a beautiful sunset” or “I’m grateful that I have a class at school that I really like.” If I take this exercise seriously, I never run out of things to write down.
2. Look for the silver lining.
This is different than the previous idea because it starts off with something negative but looks for ways that it was turned into a positive. For example, “I might have gotten a speeding ticket if that slow driver hadn’t pulled out in front of me” or “I was able to become friends with this person because I accidentally spilled ketchup on his shirt” or “I would never have ended up in this major that I love if I hadn’t gotten a D in that other major.”
3. Focus on what I have, not on what I don’t have.
We live in a culture that is constantly pointing things out that we don’t have (but need). Every advertisement creates the sense that our lives are not complete until we obtain what’s being offered. We even look at those we live, work, and study with and begin to compare our station in life with theirs. But here’s the rub: I will never be content if I derive my sense of contentment from accumulation. Contentment comes from properly aligned values, not acquisition of more stuff. It’s living with the sense: I am okay with who I am and where I’m at and what I have right now.
4. Think about people who have meant the most.
My life is full of people who have invested in me, encouraged me, and believed in me. It’s amazing how much better I feel when I begin to think about them and the relationship we share. I can recall one friend that I think about whenever I get into a situation where I need wisdom. I simply reflect on all of the wisdom that he brought into my life and the lives of those around him. I start to feel smarter when I think about him.
5. Think about places and experiences that make me smile.
There are lots of places where I have wonderful memories. Watching my kids play sports, going to Korea or Austria, watching a brilliant sunset, a meal with friends where we laughed until we were almost sick, and even some of the dumb mistakes I made or embarrassing moments. All of these things are moments that I’m grateful for.
6. Pass gratitude on to others.
I believe gratitude is something that is contagious. When I demonstrate gratitude in a relationship or situation it may remind others they can be grateful as well. True gratitude involves action. Lend a hand. Pitch in. Make a gift. Give my time. Listen. Give back as often as I can. Even a friendly greeting can make all the difference in the world. I need to model gratitude by thanking people for what they’ve done. An attitude of gratitude spreads like ripples from a tossed pebble, benefiting all it touches.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward
I wonder how many presents I have failed to give because I chose to be ungrateful or simply forgot that I have a lot to be thankful for.
How about you: What are you thankful for?