Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude
By Maile Sundquist

Although the average person has as much of a chance of having a good day as a bad one, the majority of us seem to go through life sullen, defeated, weary, tired, fearful, and depressed.

Life is an ever-changing thing, full of complex circumstances, relationships, points of views, belief systems, words, and actions.  So how, when so much of life and its happenings seem insanely overwhelming and out of our control, do we maintain contentment and joy?

Since 2005 I have had chronic pain that has made it hard for me to keep a smile on my face.  In my youth I was an upbeat, energetic, optimistic girl, but now I have become a mentally and physically overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden, emotionally unhinged, fatigued, depressed shadow of my former self… and that’s on a good day!

But seriously, although I am not as low as I once was, I still battle negativity and generalized anxiety daily.  One of the biggest attitude changers that I have come across is gratitude.  Peace and happiness are fleeting.  They ebb and flow based on circumstance.  However, true contentment and joy are deep, abiding things that should remain in place despite life’s comings and goings.  They are a state of mind we can choose to inhabit or not.  They are a choice that being grateful through all circumstances can aid in.

I by no means claim to have mastered the path of true contentment and joy.  If I had, I think I would at least have one bestselling book, regular TV appearances, surely more money in the bank, and go by a name like Guru Shasta Sauce.  Like I said, being positive and anxiety-free is a daily struggle, but I’ll list a few things I try to put into play daily that have helped me move in the direction of contentment and joy.

A healthy perspective and self-awareness.  Developing awareness and mindfulness of the roll I passively or actively play in my life and circumstances is huge to being able to see things more clearly.  Our perception plays a huge roll in how we react and are affected by events in life.  Just like a healthy immune system, a healthy perspective will allow us to fight off most negative, irrational feelings that try to invade our peace of mind and erode our emotional foundation.

Faith in a higher power.  The stabilizer for all areas of my life has come from my faith as a Christian and holding onto God’s promises in the Bible which bring me hope, reassurance, and encouragement.

Embrace change.  I know, painfully cliche but an important life lesson.  It is after all the only constant in life.  The times I have attempted to tackle life through a narrow, rigid filter and have been judgmental or controlling have only caused me unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Crappy things will happen but we need to let them and the negative emotions that come with them crash and recede like waves on the shore.  We can’t control what others do, but we can control our response.

Let it go.  What’s done is done.  Not dwelling or ruminating on negative interactions or events, but learning what I can from them and moving on, has been so freeing, and made room for forgiveness and joy in my life.  Replaying embarrassing or negative dialogues or happenings in my head has only ever caused discontentment, shame, and frustration, which only going back in time could remedy – which is impossible.

Being grateful.  Despite one’s struggles or situation past or present there is always something to be grateful for, no matter how small.  Comparing myself or what I have to others has been a surefire contentment killer.  Society and marketers play on our insecurities and want us to live in a constant state of discontent.  When we feel inadequate or that we or what we have does not measure up then we will inevitably reach outside ourselves to remedy the situation whether it’s a new job, a new haircut, a new car, or a new relationship.  Stuff is not the answer.  Assessing my life, knowing and loving myself, creating a value system that correlates with my belief system, accepting my strengths and weaknesses, and being at peace with what makes me me and what I believe all contribute greatly to giving me confidence in my choices about how I live my life and what I want from it.  They have given me confidence to opt out of any preconceived notions of how any aspect of life should look.  I make due with what I have and try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness by being mindful in each moment and circumstance of what there is to be thankful for.  “Count your blessings” and “want for nothing” are two mottos I try to live by.

Practicing gratitude will help us not to dwell on the negatives in ourselves, our circumstances, and our relationships.  It encourages us away from comparative thinking and keeps us from dwelling on what we lack and what we want, helping us to live in and embrace each moment.

I hope we can all allow gratefulness to be an abiding trait in our lives.  Let’s go forward with grateful hearts rejoicing in and embracing each precious and fleeting moment.  May our eyes be open to seeing the silver lining in every rain cloud that comes our way.  Even when we feel there is nothing to be thankful for, remember there is hope in each new day and our existence. 

Today I am thankful for another new year, and for all of you who take the time to read my words.  May your new year be full of hope, love, peace, joy, and ice cream, ’cause who doesn’t like ice cream?

“Live BRIGHT!”

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