Things look better when we’re grateful
We can still find goodness, peace, and love in our lives, difficult as they are to see with children, partners, or friends who struggle with mental health challenges and addiction. How? When we focus through eyes of gratitude upon the many gifts we have been given. None of us were promised anything in this life. Not health, not long life, not freedom from pain. Our loved ones never asked for their challenges. Their choices, what happens to them, and how they treat us will cause us pain. The world is an imperfect place, and much of what happens is out of our control. Why create further suffering for ourselves by disliking our lives? Everything looks different when we’re grateful.
Gratitude is our most ever-present, accessible medicine
When we enjoy a moment with gratitude, we saturate in something pleasurable. Savoring simple happenings helps us to accept and even begin to love our imperfect lives. Challenges will always arrive, every day. We don’t need to add to pain with fear, which creates our suffering, or tack on misery by fixating on or obsessing about our difficulties. It’s ok to be happy underneath it all, and experience moments of joy. Holding back from happiness or waiting for the shoe to drop, is a “freeze” response; it’s one of the sympathetic nervous system’s 4 attempts to keep us safe (the others are to fight, flee, or fawn — to please others). Attempts to protect ourselves from suffering actually prevent us from experiencing bliss. Everyone longs for joy, to rise above our pain and feel better, to tap into a resource within that is always available! Gratitude is this medicine, and we hold its healing power within. All we have to do is go inside, breathing consciously into our deepest selves, and dwell upon a few things we’re grateful for.
Try it now: what is 1 thing for which you’re grateful? Breathe in and out with heightened awareness, reflecting upon this with openness, seeing gratitude as the medicine you need right now to soothe your sad or anxious heart.
Pain and happiness are flipsides of the same coin
Over-focusing upon pain will not help you to enjoy or love your life. In fact, it keeps you in either a numbed state or a place of anxious hypervigilance. Don’t get me wrong: do experience the depth of your emotions. Heal from trauma, working with a skilled therapist. Bravely feel your pain in its pure form as it arises. Yet, also saturate yourself with the cleansing, comforting relief found in gratefulness. Wrap yourself in it like a soft blanket. With gratitude as medicine, healing is available.
“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful,” David Stendl-Rast says. The warmth of gratitude is soothing, enhancing your capacity to handle stress and even the most harrowing circumstances. It takes bravery, but you do two things at once: you allow your aches with tenderness, while soaking in the therapeutic bath of gratitude.
Notice when you are obsessing about dark things
When you find yourself focusing upon the challenges, or even obsessing on the crises in your life, catch yourself. Notice your dark thoughts. Then do a quick mental and heart switch: find gratitude for your life this moment and get out of your head and into your body.
Caress a smooth stone in your hands, or give yourself a huge hug. Gently rub your lower neck, just beneath your collar bone, or massage your shoulders. Try placing hands on your belly and your heart. Breathe consciously while doing this: inhale with self-compassion, then deeply exhale, releasing the heavy thoughts.
Surround yourself in the energy of compassion. Focus on being present in your whole-being.
Flip the switch: focus upon what you’re grateful for
We can handle our discomfort, anger, and even our deepest despair when we bravely catch our negative thoughts, get real and raw, then simultaneously focus upon what is good. Even if the good seems random. All of it is simply what is, for now. All of this will change. What is here now will not last; we know for certain that change will occur and tomorrow will be different. So, try flipping an inner switch and say: “I have a roof over my head. I have food. I have water. I am alive, and life is a gift. I can raise my lips in a tiny smile. I can breathe in, and the huge release of my outbreath calms me.”
Come back into your heart
Fear stands guard around our capacity to grow. Stretching into gratitude with conscious breathing can reduce fears about your beloved. alter your mindset, calm your sympathetic nervous system, and allow yourself to move from shock, trauma, anger, or devastation into moments of brave poise, accepting what is in this present moment. Gratefulness brings you back into your loving, compassionate heart. Your eyes become unclouded, and with broadened perspective, you see through the bare eyes of grace instead of through the dark glasses of the brain’s negative bias of trauma, anxiety, or fear.
Enveloped in gratitude, the volume of fear’s voice is reduced, and your own loving heart holds your pain with deep nurturing.
Gratitude is a prescription for loving life and for everyday, conscious bravery.
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