I recently had a conversation with a friend about gratitude. He relayed an incredible story of a colleague, who had moved to Australia from India with his family in search of a better life.
Despite full and reputable qualifications and wide experience in India, he was finding it impossible to secure a full-time role in his field. Days, weeks and months went by without an income. Down to his last few dollars, he was finally offered an opportunity at my friend’s workplace and thankfully – from what I am told – he is a fantastic fit.
As I sat and listened to the story, I was amazed at the lifelong hardship this man had endured and his unceasing courage and hope. “And you know what, Kate?”, my friend said to me, “he is the happiest person in the world.” He paused, and laughed in frustration. “And I look around at others, who haven’t been through half of what this man has been through, and they are so angry at the world. They are bitter and hateful and miserable. But not him. He is so blissfully happy.”
It occurred to me that I have seen this level of resentment too. Repeatedly and frequently. And shortly after, it resonated that I, too, have been guilty of exhibiting these very same qualities. Telling and retelling stories of bleaker times. Looking back. Holding on to things that could not be changed. Seeking pity or echoing negative thoughts. This man had every reason to do that. He had, without a doubt, had a tough life. But he is grateful. He is present and he is thankful and he is happy.
Sure, a crisis can make us more grateful, but research also shows that gratitude can help us cope with a crisis. If we are conscious of it – if we actively seek to build an attitude of gratitude – surely, we can create a sort of psychological cushion to the ruts in the road. Without knowing my friend’s colleague, I can only assume that this is his practice. The traumas he has endured are not forgotten. He remembers the bad as a signpost to the future; to remind him not to take things for granted.
Robert A. Emmons, author of Gratitude Works, says this: Think of the worst times in your life, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness – and then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life, you got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you endured the temptation, you survived the bad relationship, you’re making your way out of the dark. Remember the bad things, then look to see where you are now.
Our minds often think in terms of counterfactuals – mental comparisons between the way things are, and how things might have been different. But here’s the kicker: being grateful has the power to manipulate this. You can’t really pay attention to what’s missing or what’s not going well if you only let your mind pay attention to what is.
There are countless ways you can work towards this, such as keeping a gratitude journal. I have tried this personally, although for me it became an exercise I should do or needed to do – rather than something I wanted to do. And yet the conversation with my friend was a jolt about gratitude. So I have taken up daily Yoga and Pilates to start each morning in a positive headspace. I can’t tell you how magnificently different I feel. I consciously shift my mind away from negative thoughts to reflect upon all I am grateful for.
Myriad research shows that doing this – building gratitude – can activate more positive emotions and help you sleep better, express more compassion and kindness and even develop a stronger immune system. All in all, it can make you feel more alive. Sign me up for more of that, thanks!
What are you thankful for today?
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius