Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.~Oprah Winfrey
A few months ago, I was going through one of the hardest times of my life: Within the span of a few weeks, I had to find and move to a new apartment suddenly, suffered a devastating personal loss of a close family member, and was having some serious health problems.
Every day when I woke up, it felt like life was becoming increasingly hectic. I found myself wondering, “When will it end?”
Eventually, after countless hours of kindly giving me a listening ear through all the troubles, my best friend reminded me how important it is to take stock of all the good things I still had in my life. When things became crazy, I’d become too content to focus on how bad things seemed instead.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.~William Arthur Ward
You want to be grateful for what you have, but if you cut straight to the truth? You aren’t feeling it.
For a lot of people, acknowledging that truth brings with it immediate shame — the shame of knowing that in a world where so many people go homeless or hungry; or are hurt, abandoned, or abused; or are dealing with a serious illness or the death of a loved one, not feeling grateful is very, very bad.
So, we try gratitude on. “Okay,” we say, tossing our hair back and squaring our shoulders. “Let me focus on gratitude. Here I go.”
We think of 10 things to be grateful for, and then … deep breath … it is still there, that subtle and abiding sense of low-grade disappointment or sadness or disconnection from yourself or the world.
It can be the ultimate lose-lose scenario. If you push yourself to feel grateful when you know that it’s not happening on a core level, you feel like a phony. If you aren’t grateful, then …well, you’re ungrateful. No bueno.
When there are no enemies within,
the enemies outside cannot hurt you.~African proverb
Treating myself kindly is not something that comes naturally to me.
From a young age, I believed I needed to be perfect to be any good. It was probably a combination of my natural type A tendencies and my family environment. My younger brother had a lot of problems when he was a kid, struggled in school, and often acted out. He was always in trouble.
My parents were probably happy to have one child who made things easy for them. I always did well in school, always behaved, and always followed the rules.
Everything seemed great up through high school. I got straight A’s without studying too hard, excelled on my school’s water polo team, and was a respected leader in my class. I was accepted to go to college at Harvard, and thought I was pretty special.
Being a perfectionist caught up with me, though. When I got to Harvard, I was immediately knocked off my high horse by people much smarter and more talented than I was.
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Things turn out the best for people
who make the best of the way things turn out.~John Wooden
Right around the time I reached middle school, when the presence and opinion of my friends trumped that of anyone else in my life at the time, birthdays started to represent something more than just a day I might get all the things my parents refused to buy me the rest of the year.
Birthdays suddenly became the one day that I expected to have an outpouring of love and adoration, the one day that my presence in the world could actually be validated.
Yes, friends and family could shower me with love on any of the other 364 days of the year, but if they didn’t do it on that one day, that simply meant they didn’t care.
Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.~Groucho Marx
One day a few weeks ago, my alarm failed to wake me up, which sent me rushing around the house. My day suddenly put into fast-forward.
I decided to take one last sip of coffee before I left for a meeting and ended up spilling it all over my clothes. I changed and ran out the door only to realize later that I left my grocery list in my other pants.
This was quickly turning into “one of those days.” You know the type. Nothing seems to go right, no matter how hard you try.
And one of the hardest parts of those days, at least for me, is keeping my chin up. It’s so easy for my outlook to go south when a few chips are stacked against me. It’s like a chain reaction of mood dominoes.
It is the quality of our relationships that most determines our legacy.~James M. Kouzes
A few years ago, I received a long personal email from a close friend. It was an especially hectic time for me, so I only got around to replying three weeks later.
I began my email: “I’m sorry for the delayed response. I didn’t have time—“ In a moment of painful clarity, I caught myself in the middle of a lie and stopped typing. Didn’t have time? That simply wasn’t true!
We always make time for the things that are important to us: eating, showering, Facebook, watching our favorite TV shows. If we don’t make time for something, it’s probably because that “something” isn’t actually as important to us as we profess.
I work as an engineer, and I recently returned to the office after a one-week break.
I checked my e-mail inbox: 100 unread e-mails. A sense of dread washed over me. “There goes the next four hours of my life responding to e-mails,” I thought.
Reading those 100 e-mails made me sad. Not one of them was written with the intention of expressing gratitude or encouragement! All of them were focused on customer complaints that needed to be addressed and problems that needed to be fixed.
This is my little secret. It’s a secret because it sounds like magic fairy dust and flying unicorns, and generally makes me sound crazy.
When I moved into my first apartment in college, I remember telling my flat-mate TanyaI am the luckiest person in the world and she looked at me like I was a weirdo. Now, ten years later, if she hears me repeat this to someone new she will nod her head in agreement, while saying “Yup! I’ve seen it. It’s true.”
Somewhere in my teenage years, I had picked up this simple concept: that perhaps, if I viewed myself as a lucky person, good things would happen to me. In a way, it has become this self-fulfilling prophecy that feels incredibly calming. At the same time, it has brought a lot of good fortune into my life.
If someone who was important to you died abruptly, would you say to yourself, “I wish I would have . . .”? If something were to happen to you suddenly, wouldn’t you want those you care about to have known how much you appreciated them?
If your answer to these questions is yes, then expressing your deep gratitude to those who have made a significant impact on your life should not be put off any longer. There are several good reasons to start expressing your appreciation to these people now.
The sooner you tell them how you feel, the longer they will be able have to take pleasure in the message. Why wait until they’re old or dying? If they do die, there’s no chance at all that they will ever fully appreciate your level of gratitude.
You could miss the opportunity of having the pleasure of giving this gift of extraordinary gratitude to someone who has made a real difference in your life.
They’ll probably be inspired to help others; in fact, the ripples may very well be felt far and wide, and all because you made these individuals aware of how important they are to you.
I recently took my own gratitude journey and reached out to 44 people who had made the most significant impact on my life. I wanted to deliver my gratitude while I still had the energy and before it was too late and the opportunity was lost. I didn’t want to wait until any of our lives were compromised by ill health or imminent death. So I figured that I should tell these people how much they mattered to me long—hopefully, very long—before that happened and I was left with regrets.