“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” —Robert Brault, freelance writer
I am so grateful that I broke my leg skiing in Park City, Utah five years ago. I was enjoying the second day of a three-week ski vacation. As you might imagine, I didn’t feel that grateful when it happened. I was upset and frustrated.
I was having what I call a “trash” experience, a moment when everything in my life seems messed up, inadequate and wrong.
After a day of sulking, I decided to be grateful for the time off and make the best of it. I went to the ski lodge every day while my family enjoyed skiing. They would come down from the slopes and have lunch with me, tell me of their adventures and then hurry out for more fun in the snow. I spent my hours appreciating the beauty of the snow-capped mountains, reading books by the lodge’s fireplace and surfing the internet for career inspiration.
During that time, I stumbled upon the idea of entering a coach training program to become a coach solopreneur. Toward the end of the three weeks, I was unusually happy and hopeful. I had enrolled in a coaching program and even took an early flight out of Park City to attend the orientation, leg boot, crutches and all. From that day forward, I never looked back. Gratitude helped me turn my trash into treasure.
Gratitude is a confirmation of goodness. That goodness can come in the form of a material or mental gift or benefit. People associate gratitude with a source of goodness outside of themselves such as other people or a higher power. I want to go rogue here for a minute and say that we can also be grateful for the goodness in ourselves, especially when we find a way to transform a problematic situation gracefully.
While it’s true that I am grateful for the skiing accident as a gift that woke me up to the idea that I could transition from corporate executive to executive coach, I am also thankful that I had the awareness and presence of mind to see the gift. I could have easily wallowed in resentment and resistance to what happened. Instead, after a short and miserable stay in that department, I made a conscious decision to be grateful for the beautiful setting and the time to re-evaluate how I wanted to live my life.
Gratitude can take you out of grief. Being grateful for hardship doesn’t feel natural and may seem impractical. When you are grieving a loss of any kind, whether a loved one, a job, a lifestyle or a dream, there are stages you must go through to process that loss. There is no wrong or right way or length of time needed to work through these stages. It’s different for everyone. However, what is clear and universal is that you must experience the stage of acceptance to move forward. Gratitude can help you do that.
Gratitude can help shift you out of the mental and emotional comfort zone you are suffering in. When you switch focus from what isn’t working to what is, you set the groundwork for positive change from within, the only place you truly have any control over. While the pandemic, the economy and politics are out of your immediate control, your attitude is not. What you choose to focus on in this moment is the seed for what you will think, feel and perceive in the next.
Benefits of gratitude. Robert Emmons is one of the leading authorities on gratitude. According to him and other researchers, cultivating gratitude offers these immense benefits: increases happiness and life satisfaction, reduces anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure, creates better quality sleep, increases resilience, promotes forgiveness to heal relationships and makes us more positive, helpful and friendly. When you realize all the benefits of being grateful, it seems like the perfect antidote to the burdens of 2020.
I encourage you to let this Thanksgiving holiday be one filled with gratitude for all of the uncertainties, disruptions and disasters of 2020, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Think about your paused life and search for the hidden gifts this awkward gap year may be offering you, even as you grieve your losses.
As you hurry to take out the trash of 2020, think about what wonderful treasures might be lurking just below the surface. When you find your lips puckered due to this sour lemon of a year, imagine how some sweet gratitude could make the difference between being thirsty and revitalizing yourself with thirst-quenching thankfulness.
Work your Inner Genius.
We can train ourselves to be more grateful. Any accomplishment is the result of good habits. Here are some questions to inspire your thinking, along with practices that can help you cultivate the gratitude habit.
- What is one thing you are grateful for in your life right now? How different would your life be without it?
- Using your sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing or sight, what pleasant sensation can you appreciate by mindfully engaging your attention on it for at least 30 seconds?
- What letter would your future self write to your present self about the hidden positives 2020 offered you? Write that letter now. You can do this for every disturbing experience you have. Keep these letters in a file or journal when you need a reminder to keep a grateful perspective.
Thanks for reading. Until next week,