Today is a day all over America that we count our blessings and give thanks. We live in a world that is imperfect, a country that is divided, a world full of war and tragedy. There are those among us who are hungry and without shelter and yet we are a people who survive, who go on, who rise up and believe that things can get better–we hope–we give thanks.
Gratitude is a practice that can be cultivated. Modern science has shown what many have proven over the years–it is good to give thanks. It is a healing balm. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes a study he conducted where he taught severely depressed patients to write down one thing each day they were grateful for. Within 15 days 94% of them reported feeling better.
Gratitude comes in many shapes and sizes; it can be as small as a smile given to the store clerk or a generous tip given to the newspaper boy. Or it can be as big as a grant given to help world hunger or bring clean water to a small village. It can come in a note to a teacher or a warm meal for a friend. It wells up as a grateful surge when we remember our blessings and we delight in our families and our friendships and work that is meaningful.
Gratitude After Loss
And there is another form of gratefulness and joy that comes after enduring a painful process; the grief of losing a loved one, the pain of enduring cancer treatment, the loss of a job or home or relationship or dream. When we are plunged into this kind of darkness it can suffocate joy- it can capture our happiness and eliminate our capacity for gratefulness. And it can seem endless, like there is no way out. We cannot hurry this process of the dark night, even though most of us run from it. We hide in our busyness or consumption or addictions or even relationships. But if we can muster the courage to lean into it, if we face it head on and don’t run from it, but are willing to open to the lessons to be learned or the message to be given- we come out on the other side a changed person. We are meant to be whole and actualized, and we have an amazing capacity to heal if we open to the process.
The Way Out
We all have a survivor’s instinct, a kind of internal guide, that kicks in and starts to make us aware of the “way out”. It might be that we begin to feel angry about where we find ourselves and that anger moves us to action to change our situation. Or it may be that there comes a kind of softness that begins to creep in and we feel some sense of compassion for ourselves or the others involved, and we begin to grieve deeply for what we lost. And when that happens the darkness begins to shift and a new sense of hope begins to emerge and a light begins to shine in that darkness. It might be a new awareness, or way of looking at things. It might come in the form of changes that create a healthier lifestyle, or it might result in a new vision for a future that is more aligned with our truest sense of self. And a new sense of hope begins to emerge that is full of a kind of gratefulness and joy that is deep and grounding and enduring.
All change involves a letting go of the past, and that is often a painful process. Some changes are thrust upon us by circumstance and some come from an internal process of awareness that leads us to new behaviors. All change involves loss. When we fully grieve that loss and allow ourselves to learn from it- a new vision takes it’s place and we can feel grateful for the future- one that builds on the past, but doesn’t keep us stuck there. Our pain is often the pathway to our greatest growth and more often than not- we find ourselves grateful for it.
It helps to know that there is something on the other side of pain. That something good can result from it. Almost all the growth I have realized has come from a painful process of letting go. Share your stories with us: Where have you grown from pain? what are you grateful for? How did you get there?
Pain=Growth=Gratitude… Has that been true for you? Tell us how.
With a grateful heart,