“Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers; Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs; That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care; Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers” – Unanswered Prayers, by Garth Brooks
Next week is Thanksgiving, so everywhere I look, people are focusing on gratitude. There’s the 30-dy gratitude challenge, the 7-day gratitude challenge, and there are the families who spend every Thanksgiving having each person sitting around the table recite what they are grateful for.
I am thrilled that people choose to spend that time expressing what they are grateful for. I believe we would all be a lot happier if everyone would spend a little time every day focusing on gratitude instead of waiting for a special time of year to be aware of their blessings.
I don’t always do a very good job of being consistent, but I try to give thanks each day. My rule of thumb is to try and find three things every day to be grateful for. The idea is to come up with three different things each day so you’re not just repeating the same three over and over again. It can be challenging to find unique things every day. There are times you have to dig really deep to find new ways of looking at gratitude.
The biggest challenge for me was learning to be grateful for the blessings that come disguised as painful, negative experiences. This isn’t an easy thing to do and can feel counter-intuitive to my baser instincts. But when situations bother or anger me, I’ve found there are usually positive things to be learned from them.
There’s the aggravation when someone pulls out in traffic right in front of me and then goes slower than the flow of traffic – I have learned to take a deep breath and say a quick prayer of thanks that this person is saving me from something unpleasant. If they didn’t pull in front of me, I might get a speeding ticket or get hit by someone else. I also try to imagine what’s going on in their life that they are driving the way they are.
There was the job I really wanted but didn’t get – It takes time to recognize that sometimes you don’t get a job because the one you think you really want isn’t a good fit. There have been so many times I thought I wanted a particular job and been disappointed when I didn’t get it. Then, when the right job came around, I was so grateful I hadn’t been chosen for the first one.
There was the job I hated and couldn’t take for one more day – I knew it was time to leave my last corporate position when I literally burst into tears upon waking up and realizing I had to go in to work that day. It wasn’t long after that morning that I finally quit. I have given thanks so many times to the people who made me so miserable that I was pushed out of a that no longer fit the person I was becoming. I love the life I live now and I can’t imagine still living in that toxicity.
There were the boyfriends who I thought broke my heart by ending our relationship – It’s always hard to accept rejection. Even if you try to tell yourself it was the other person’s shortcomings, not yours, that ended the relationship, it still hurts. I have learned to give thanks for what a person brought to my life. Sometimes it’s easier than others, but by learning to be grateful not just for the good things they brought, but also for the lessons they’ve helped me learn, I’ve learned how to move forward without bitterness. Eventually.
There were the deaths of people I loved – Death is never easy. It hurts to say good-bye to someone you love and to know they are gone for the rest of your life. Not only do I try to focus on my loved ones no longer being in pain, or in a better place, I also try to focus on what made them unhappy in their lives and to be happy for them that they are no longer dealing with those things. There were so many times before my mom died that she bitterly told me how much she hated the limitations her body forced on her. When she passed away, I was able to remember that and be grateful she was no longer limited by her earthly body. That helped me learn to gradually accept her passing.
For anyone who reads this and thinks I’m a Pollyanna who never experiences all the negative emotions humans deal with, trust me, that is not the case. I still get mad, sad, lonely and all the other emotions that are hard to live with. I have a huge temper that has always pushed my civility and challenged my ability to behave rationally.
What I have learned by trying to be grateful for both the good and the bad things in my life is that life really isn’t all that bad. I have learned to take a deep breath and try to think of all the perspectives of the situation before I lose my temper or allow hateful words to leave my lips. I have learned that in the long run, I am a much happier person when I try to focus on the good.
For that, I am truly grateful.