Gratitude appears easy enough to practice. It can be as simple as throughout the day asking yourself the question, “What am I grateful for?” It can also be more reflective like daily journaling the 5 -10 things that you are most grateful for and why.
So much has been written substantiating the benefits of expressing gratitude. When you are grateful, you become more optimistic, appear to manifest goals faster and display more vibrant health (See Chopra). Yet, when in the throes of challenges and stress, gratitude often slips off the table. There are three main reasons why being grateful becomes hard. I’d like to outline those and then share my personal experience as an example of how being grateful can benefit you.
The first obstacle to staying grateful is that we compare what is happening in the present to our past. For example, if we were far more accomplished prior to this moment in time, being thankful for what seems so much less than where we were then now feels disingenuous or fake. “I used to be SVP of ____. After being let go due to a merger, I finally found a job after almost a year of trying as manager of ___. It feels like I’m starting all over again.”
The second reason that many people have trouble being grateful is stress. I was speaking to the VP of HR in a healthcare system who recently shared that she starts each day with positive affirmations about the day. She sometimes meditates and frequently works out. She feels good when she arrives at work, and then like an unwatered plant, she is wilted by noon and by the end of a high pressured day, she “has nothing left.”
The third reason that many people don’t feel grateful is that it’s not even on their radar screen. Be it because they are “more cynical” than some or that it’s not a natural thing for them to do, practicing gratefulness isn’t seen as a priority. They are unconscious when it comes to being grateful and therefore don’t engage in it.
I started a series of lessons that I learned or relearned from my heart surgeries. The first lesson was to “let go” and feel compassion at the deepest levels. The second dealt with the power of forgiveness. The third lesson is about the benefit of practicing gratefulness on a regular basis. The reason that I had to have two heart surgeries was that I couldn’t get well after the first valve repair. Turns out I had contracted a bacterial infection which none of the medical team detected. I spent over a half year sick and unable to get well. When I was at the point of collapse, a technician conducting my echocardiogram saw the infection. The diagnosis was endocarditis and it required emergency surgery, a total re-do of the first surgery. Starting again after such an ordeal was hard. I know I’m not alone here – many of us have experienced similar difficult things. I share this with you because being grateful for all that was around me and for those who cared helped me to get well.
I had little energy after my second surgery. Morning, noon and night when meals were served or meds given, I would take less than a minute to appreciate something and really feel the gratefulness in my body. In Wishes Fulfilled Dr. Wayne Dyer talks about the importance of not only picturing what we desire but making sure that we hook the thought to the appropriate feeling. I pictured myself healthy and conjured up the feeling of being well. This process of finding something I was grateful for, seeing myself well and feeling the gratitude for it helped me to recover quickly and fully.
You don’t have to be sick or desperate to use this process to enhance your life. Be grateful, feel the well-being and see the blessings multiply in your work and life. Practicing this form of gratitude is a great way to start the year!