My journey to living in gratitude began in 2010. And let me say that up until that time, until I was age 45, I was a complainer, griper and a whiner, with absolutely no reason to complain! Luckily, I was saved from these very wasteful, counter-productive habits when I was given a blank journal one Thanksgiving season by a New Thought minister, who told us if we journaled 5 things we were grateful for 40 days our life would change exponentially for the better. She did this two years in a row, I dutifully wrote my gratitude lists and oh my god, my life did change. It worked! I let go of complaining and started focusing on all the good in my life, and there is plenty.
Before I do, I highly recommend starting a daily gratitude practice. Did you know that scientific studies prove that being grateful helps to be more peaceful, more joyful, and healthier?* It is so true. It is said that you cannot be simultaneously mad or depressed while being grateful. Once at a book signing, a woman raised her hand and said “Yes, you can!” I laughed to myself and should have gifted her one of my gratitude journals to write in. I think she would find it is not possible if you are really immersed in being thankful.
I hope you are now convinced that being grateful is very beneficial to us, and I will go on into a more complicated, sometimes more challenging gratitude practice, which is Radical Gratitude.
It is my belief that we can almost always find a reason to be grateful, even when confronted with tragedies, unexpected disasters, or even ill health. And this holds true for challenging people in our lives as well. Here are two disclaimers:
But more often that not, we CAN find the gratitude in negative situations in our life. I want to give you a few examples from my own life, and then tell you about a few famous people who were able to find the gratitude in sad or horrific situations who I find particularly inspiring.
In the summer of 2018, Oregon (where I live) had many devastating wildfires. One of them was dangerously close to our home! We watched in horror and disbelief as it came closer and closer. It became obvious we would probably be evacuated. The smoke was black, firefighters, and National Guard were checking everyone’s IDs before letting them enter the street to our house. Neighbors and I got out of our cars to stop and watch it burning fields and trees so close to our homes. I tried to keep a positive attitude, but it got to be only ½ mile up a street from our home. Very very scary! I love where we live and the thought of losing our home was terrifying. On a Saturday afternoon, as I tried to take a nap to escape, our phones started ringing and texting that we were in Level 3, evacuation time. Get out now. We took our dogs and my cockatiels, computer, important papers, some clothes and left the rest. We were evacuated for six days and got to come home – all houses and neighbors were thankfully safe and sound. Here are my gratitude takeaways:
We were taken in by friends from the Center for Spiritual Living where I attend, and actually about eight other people had offered us refuge as well. I am very grateful for that, and for Alison and Gary who made us feel at home, helped me set my computer up at their house so I could work, putting up with us and our messy pets. All of us became much closer friends through this experience, and we socialize with them regularly.
When I was 35, I lost my beautiful mother when she was only 57 through cancer. This was a horrible time in my life. I remember waking up feeling good, and then immediately feeling dread and sorrow, when I remembered that Mom would die soon. The gratitude takeaways I have from that grief-stricken time is that I was Mom’s main caregiver and that brought me much closer to her in those last 9 months. My sisters and I got closer because of that experience, and that was the first time I got introduced to A Course in Miracles, a spiritual set of lessons which changed my life for the better. My mother had what I called “Angels” helping her from The Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, CA and they studied A Course in Miracles, which prompted me to because they were so giving and inspirational to me. Also, before she died, my mother spent time reflecting on her cancer and what could have caused it, and felt that being a people-pleaser all her life, and being fearful had prompted the cancer, and she left me with the message not to be like her, which I am very grateful for and have always remembered, and changed my codependent behavior because of it. Additionally, we had time to say goodbye, which cancer usually provides, and that was a big blessing too.
One more example which changed my life incredibly in so many ways was going through a divorce after 24 years. This was a very difficult decision, I wasn’t sure if it was the right one, and my ex-husband ended up deciding for us. I was very heart-broken. So heart-broken that I finally sought out the Center for Spiritual Living, in Santa Rosa, CA which many people in my life had gently suggested I might attend because they felt I would love it too. And I did!!!! From the moment I entered, I got tears in my eyes, seeing all the loving, warm people and as I listened to the talk, I realized even more that this would be my spiritual home the rest of my life, and it has been. I am eternally grateful for my divorce now. I took the spiritual classes voraciously; became a licensed practitioner, now serving in Oregon where I live. I am blessed to teach spiritual classes and workshops, and in 2019, I spoke at two Centers for Spiritual Living about the topics in this article. I eventually met my second husband who I have been with for almost 20 years and we are much more compatible. He asked me to move to Oregon and I did. And I am in love with the forest, rivers and beauty. None of this would have happened had I stayed in my first marriage. Very thankful!
In each of these cases, some gratitude was easily available, but more came later. It may take time, even many years to find the gratitude, but looking for it helps your healing.
I want to mention several well-known people and how they found radical gratitude in their lives. Each is very inspiring to me!
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who ended up being put into concentration camps during the Holocaust, and amazingly, found a way to stay positive and ended up writing this book Man’s Search for Meaning which has sold 15 million copies and thus, impacted so many people’s lives. His premise is that we need to find meaning in life, and that will help carry us through even the hardest situations. He was a walking example. Here is a quote from his powerful book:
“Everything can be taken…but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Will Pye who wrote the book Gratitude Prescription, Harnessing the Power of Thankfulness for Healing and Happiness was himself diagnosed with a brain tumor and through gratitude, healed himself completely. Here is a quote from his excellent book about radical gratitude:
“In looking at our self and our life story through the lens of gratitude, we can come into contact with the beauty and heroism inherent in every human alive. Gratitude for self supports a compassion encompassing all of us.”
There are other examples too, of physical healing, where the person ends up being grateful for the illness. Anita Moorjani, realized on a deep level that we are love, truly knowing this after a Near Death Experience, and could let go of her fear of cancer completely, and had a spontaneous remission. It is her calling to share her findings with others and her beautiful book Dying to Be Me has reached millions of people across the world.
Helen Keller has always been one of my heroes. Even though she was deaf and blind at such a young age, she somehow always found reasons to express her gratitude. I share a very powerful quote from her:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. I thank God for my handicaps. So much has been given me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
In conclusion, I truly believe that we can almost always find gratitude in even the most challenging situations. It may take time, so be patient. I feel that life is about how we respond to it, and we are always at choice, like Victor Frankl and Helen Keller so beautifully prove. I feel my own life examples also show this.
Being radically grateful is not always easy but incredibly worthwhile. Our attitude truly affects our lives and living with gratitude is powerful beyond measure. I hope I have helped you be able to pick yourself up by your gratitude bootstraps when times are tough.
Deborah Perdue, author of the beautiful Grace of Gratitude Journal and four other gratitude books, loves to share the powerful practice of gratitude. She teaches workshops and classes, and is an award-winning book designer.
See her blogs at http://www.graceofgratitude.com/category/blog/ and listen to her talk on the same subject at http://www.graceofgratitude.com/events/. You can sign up for free daily Gratitude Reflection emails on the home page at http://www.graceofgratitude.com/