On Becoming Grateful
I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. My dog, Lenny, just had dorsal laminectomy surgery on his lower back and his excruciating pain has left. I feel grateful for the results, for the skilled hands of the neurosurgeon and the compassionate care of his team. Most of all, I feel grateful for the life of my canine companion who brings me much joy and laughter.
The gratitude I feel is more than just the thanks I express to the barista when I order my Starbucks or the thanks I give a stranger who holds a door open for me. The gratitude I am talking about is the deep appreciation I feel for the goodness in my life, in this case expressed in the life of my dog.
Gratitude is the mental tool we can use to remind ourselves of the good stuff in life. It’s also a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. And it’s a lens we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like good health and having enough to eat.
Practiced on a regular basis, gratitude can become a way of being which may yield huge benefits for the quality of one’s life. Let me give you an example. Two years ago, a man in his 40’s came to see me for coaching. Let’s call him Ray. Ray was very unhappy and dissatisfied with everything and everyone in his life—his job as a bank manager, customers, his boss, his family, including his wife and children. His first conversation with me was filled with sighs about his weight, his health and his insomnia. He had dark circles under his eyes. He felt no attraction to going out with friends anymore. At a certain point in our discussion I stopped him dead in his tracks by asking if there was anything or anyone in his life he was happy about. He hesitated for a moment and then said “no”.
During our time together, a prominent theme Ray and I explored was what not complaining would look and feel like. One of the first exercises I gave him was a gratitude practice. Once a day, I asked him to identify three things he was grateful for. He found this tough. He listed the fact that he had steady employment, a regular salary and a mortgage-free home. I coaxed him to include the people in his life. Having loyal employees, a spouse with a great sense of humor and a daughter who loved to play softball came up. I invited him to keep a gratitude journal beside his bed and to jot down a word or two about the things and the people he was grateful for before turning in for the night. If he was too tired to put pen to paper, I invited him to simply visualize them. By focusing his attention on gratitude before closing his eyes he began to replace the usual negative images and conversations he rehashed in his head with positive pictures. As a result, his sleep became more restful. Gradually, gratitude became a habit. One Friday he surprised his employees by suggesting they all go out bowling together the following week. To demonstrate his appreciation, he bought a dozen red roses for his wife. He also set aside time on the weekend to watch his daughter’s softball game. His demeanor became softer and he began to smile more. His gratitude was palpable to everyone around him.
These days, it’s hard to watch the news without feeling despair for the lives of people who are caught in the crosshairs of hunger, poverty, war and senseless shootings. While I don’t have control over what is happening in the world, I do have control over how I choose to live my life. I choose to practice gratitude daily. Gratitude gives depth and meaning to my life. It connects me more fully to living in the moment and opens my heart to receive each day as a gift.
The Catholic Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has spent many years writing about gratitude. Here is one of his quotes that guides me: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Not sure how to introduce gratitude in your life? Take a page from Ray and keep a gratitude journal.
Batia Winer is a meditation teacher and a certified Integral Master Coach™. 613-327-7522; firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate McGregor is a certified Integral Master Coach™. 613-884-1864; email@example.com; www.kmcoaching.ca