Say Thank you.
The dictionary can’t even help us understand what people are talking about when they remind us about gratitude:
The quality or feeling of being grateful ? ? ?
We know it’s supposed to help make us happier and maybe even bring more good things into our lives, but what is gratitude, really? And better yet, how do we…Do gratitude?
For some people, gratitude seems to come naturally and that doesn’t make it any easier to understand.
What if you’re having trouble feeling grateful?
What if the circumstances of your life are not what you’d like them to be?
• You’re single and you’d like not to be.
• You live in a house two sizes too small.
• You’re 100 pounds overweight and are “tired” of the dogma of weight loss.
• You’re unemployed and running out of funds.
Life is full of situations like these that challenge us and make gratitude seem IMPOSSIBLE! You might even be thinking; what have I got to be grateful for? How can I even begin to focus on gratitude? Let me tell you that I have been there. In fact, the circumstances of my life seemed pretty crappy for a long time, but I found my way out of the dark and you can too. I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned about finding the strength for gratitude even when it seemed to be out of the question.
Gratitude can be hard to wrap your mind around because it is a much larger concept than simply saying “thank you” when someone buys you a pair of Manolo Blahniks for your birthday. I mean, we should say “thank you” for that, but there’s more to it. This is where things get confused. Gratitude is something that comes beforehand, not after-the-fact. So it’s really not about saying “thank you” at all. Gratitude is a state of being, a state that you create.
Creating a “state of gratitude-ness” is like setting a stage, one in which you realize and accept that what you believe about your creation is coming directly from the depths of your imagination. I like to compare the concept of gratitude to an idea in the movie, Field of Dreams. The most famous line from that film was, “build it and they will come.” Now, it had never been a dream for Ray Kinsella to build a baseball diamond. In fact, when questioned about it, he couldn’t even explain why he had to do it. But it had been a desire of his to know his father, a former baseball player and to heal their relationship even though his father had died. Ray was building a stage for something to happen on, even though he didn’t know what would happen. That stage was built on love, trust and imagination. And gratitude works that way too, our thoughts and actions in life build a platform for either good things or not-so-good things to happen.
In the film, Ray loved his farm and his family and baseball. He had a deep and hidden desire to connect with his father, but felt like he’d never had an opportunity. He had a hunch, and he loved that ball diamond into being. Even though he didn’t know how, he believed it would help him keep his farm. The more love and trust he devoted to the baseball field, the more other people began to take notice and began to believe along with him. And then good things started to happen… you know the rest of the story (if not, go rent it, you won’t be disappointed).
If you love something and believe in it, it will grow. It will grow in your estimation (esteem) and it will grow in the eyes of others. Anything’s value is increased when it is loved. Have you ever met anyone who seemed to make more of what they have than other people? For example, someone lives in a tiny apartment, but when you walk inside it is enviable in comfort and style. Or, you meet a couple who seem mismatched in appearances, but when you are around them, they exude so much love for each other that they both radiate in beauty. Or, the guy down the road who drives an older car, but treats it like a Rolls Royce, waxing it, cleaning the upholstery and shining the wheels – it looks better than most cars years younger! When we experience these situations, we can see gratitude in action.
Self-love is the foundation for gratitude. We demonstrate self-love when we take care of our bodies and our lives. It can take a lifetime to learn how to be good to ourselves, but if you think about all of the elements needed to set the stage for a person well-loved, you will see it is only a matter of daily choices that begin to tip the scales in your favor. What we consume, what we wear, who we keep company with, what we watch to entertain us, all are choices that either build a field for happiness and good feelings, or frustration and self-loathing. Keep choosing. Don’t give up on yourself. When you stop caring, you will stop making choices and letting “whatever” take over. Don’t do it. Just consciously choose to love you.
Take care of what you have to the best of your ability. This includes both people and things. This seems like a fairly simple edict, and it is. Devote a small part of every day to saying nice things to the people you care about. Don’t give advice, because it undermines. Build people up and give them encouragement by reminding them of their strengths not their weaknesses. The things we surround ourselves with require maintenance and care. Don’t accumulate more than you can care for. If your closet is a mess, you will have a hard time caring about your expensive shoes. Most of us are in way over our heads with more than we can take care of. Scale back to what you can manage to really love. We don’t have time for everything and everyone, so select with care and take care.
Gratitude is free. It doesn’t cost us anything to build a life based in gratitude. It is a matter of having a generous spirit toward people, places and things. For example: I used to feel like I couldn’t take care of things very well because I had such a poor flow of income, but when I really put my mind to it, I found countless ways to take better care of my house that were free. Just keeping it clean and simple by getting rid of junk that clutters up the space and devoting a few concentrated hours every week to cleaning and loving on my space makes me feel good about my home even if it isn’t magazine perfect. The more I care for my space, the more good I can see in it. I get excited about a vase of flowers on the table and a nice smelling candle.
Belief comes from imagination – use it. Gratitude believes the best about something or someone. Most of us here in the U.S. grew up on Disney and still love a good kid’s movie. Why? Because we are reminded of the power of imagination and make believe. But sadly few of us use it anymore in our daily lives (except super successful innovators and entrepreneurs who do). We don’t put much stock in our imagination and we certainly don’t rely on it for helping us in being grateful, but we should. When we believe in something, we imagine the best scenario and we begin to see possibility where it didn’t exist before. We build belief in something through our imagination of the good in it. Imagination is how we believe in the impossible and sometimes we need that to feel gratitude about circumstances that are less than ideal. More on this concept coming next week. Check out my post on Tuesday – Seeing isn’t Believing: Imagining is Believing!
If you think about gratitude as your opportunity to “set a stage” for the best life you can imagine, you will notice how your thoughts and feelings about things and people change for the better. Daily choices that demonstrate care and love will go a long way in building up your gratitude muscle.