An “attitude of gratitude.” This is a phrase that is commonly thrown around, particularly around the holiday season. Developing such an attitude can help us calm the mind, focus on the important things in life, not take the people we love for granted, find peace and feel grounded.
And make no mistake, this is absolutely true. But, it’s certainly not easy.
Webster’s tells us that gratitude is: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Sounds easy enough!
Gratitude is a word that is on the forefront of my thoughts a lot these days, and there are surely endless reasons in my life to feel an abundance of gratitude. However, I think the hardest part of truly cultivating gratitude is not only to know, intellectually, that we are grateful, but to allow that gratefulness to seep into our very core, and let it permeate our every action.
Because yes, gratitude is healing. It is healing for both ourselves and those around us. Gratitude makes us humble, it opens us to new experiences, ideas, people and love…it is perhaps the key to happiness.
So how can we get our hands on that key? How can we keep it in our pockets and in our hearts and in our every breath and cell? This might just be a lifelong mission, and one that should be contemplated and worked towards every day.
Recently, I had a health scare. Being a young, thirty-something who works in the field of integrative medicine, I most certainly fell into the category of the hoards that think we are invincible. And maybe that is okay, after all, disease and heartbreak and challenge throughout life spares no one, so why focus energy on worrying about it?
But upon being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and thanking the powers that be for that autoimmune disease not being cancer, I felt vulnerable and grateful in a way that was utterly new, and humbling, and terrifying.
When we are gifted the opportunity to catch a glimpse, even if just for a moment, that all of those beautiful things in life could be gone…that we could be gone…it changes us. It forces us to understand that we are so very small on this earth, and the capacity to feel love and pain is so very great, that the only choice we have, really, is (or should be), to feel eternally, intensely grateful.
Because we don’t know when the pain and the love will come, or when it will go, or for how long it will stay.
Stacey Kramer, in her inspiring 3-minute Ted Talk, talks about a gift she once received. It was small, and had the incredible ability to bring all of her friends and family together, making her feel loved like never before. It filled her life with flowers and allowed her to see what brought her true joy in life. It “redefined her sense of spirituality and faith,” and gave her an appreciation and respect for her body that was entirely new.
What was this gift? It was a brain tumor. Would she wish this gift on anyone? Of course not.
These are the extreme examples of life that force us to feel deep, profound gratitude. They leave us no other choice. We are unintentionally plunged into a swirling sea of unknowingness, and fear, and the stark realization that our lives are filled with so much fluff.
And amidst this fluff, we see clearly, unequivocally, what is dear to us.
My one week scare was nothing in comparison to Stacey Kramer’s battle with brain cancer. And my deeply felt sense of gratitude and clarity was, sadly, somewhat fleeting. Needless to say, I was glad to let it go, but I was also scared to lose it.
Perhaps we begin to strive just for moments of genuine gratitude. Fleeting moments that give us a beautiful and rich taste of the fullness and warmth of our lives. And I’d venture to say these moments can come from many experiences, not just the shattering invincibility of our own health.
It could be the birth of a child, the death of a parent, or even the simplest meeting of two kindred spirits. Whatever it is, it gifts us with gratitude.
In what other ways can we cultivate gratitude? I imagine it is what works for you, because we all find meaning and understanding in such different ways. It could be a daily morning gratitude list, a meditation practice, regular volunteer work, spiritual study, scheduling time each week for the people we love, and/or simply stepping out our front door each morning and feeling our toes on the earth, while looking up to the sky and welcoming the day.
I am not here to tell you, or anyone, how to cultivate gratitude. I struggle just as much as the next person. All I know is that if we are all, at the very least, trying…this alone goes a long way in both healing ourselves, and healing the world around us.