It’s usually pretty easy to be grateful for the good things in life. Health. Family. A good job. A winning lottery ticket. An amazing vacation. Beauty in nature. A delicious meal. Friends. Being grateful on a regular basis for all your blessings is one of the easiest ways to create a life of joy and abundance.
In life there is always contrast, and that contrast helps bring perspective.
We got a puppy over the summer. Cooper is very fluffy and very white.
He looks pretty white as a puppy, and against those red leaves, right?
Well, then I saw him in the first snow of the year which came early, in October. He really didn’t look as white anymore! When I commented about Cooper not looking so bright white, my friend said, “He’s like February snow.” That’s contrast. That’s perspective.
Contrast in life includes the fact that there will be good and bad. Ups and downs. Light times and dark times. Are you able to find gratitude in all times?
It is not always the first thought to be grateful for the down times, the hard breaks. But I encourage you to be grateful for these times. A muscle grows stronger when it is challenged: in fact, micro tears are created between muscle fibers that then heal and result in a stronger muscle. So, too, do we as whole people grow stronger when we are challenged. There are lessons to be learned if we look for them. We become smarter, more resilient, and more resourceful through life’s adversities.
It’s not often the first thought to be grateful for the mean people, the challenging people, people that spew hatred your way. But I encourage you to be grateful for these people. Just like challenging times, challenging people also have lessons for us. We can become more empathetic. We can learn valuable communication skills. We can become less judgmental if we stay in the question – be curious why someone thinks a certain way, how they see things a certain way. It’s perhaps a silly, trivial example… but I have a habit of putting things on the stairs that belong to my daughters so they can take them up to their rooms the ‘next time’ they go up the stairs. Time after time after time they will walk right past these things because they just don’t see them. How is that possible? How do they not see the giant bright pink sweatshirt? How do they not notice that the stairway is half as wide as it should be because of the things that have piled up? It is a complete mystery to me. But if they can literally not see physical things (and I honestly believe they actually just don’t see / notice them), isn’t it clear that people simply see non-physical things completely different from one another too?
It’s probably not common for the first thought to be grateful for feelings that are often categorized as “bad.” Feelings like anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy. But I encourage you to be grateful for these feelings. Here too there may be a lesson for us. There’s so much here to unpack, which I will do more fully at a later time, but very simply our emotions are signals. Anxious about an upcoming test or interview? That’s the signal to ask yourself, “Are you prepared?” That’s a good thing to check in on. Be grateful for that feeling. Sad over the loss of a loved one? That’s a reminder of how much you loved them, so be grateful for that feeling and let an appreciation for the times you had share space with it.
Here’s the odd twist: You don’t have to like something to be grateful for it. You don’t have to agree with someone to be grateful for them. And it’s OK if you don’t always feel gratitude per se in the midst of those challenging moments. But if you can only give thanks during the good times, the happy times, what happens in those challenging moments? They can easily spiral out of control and pull you into deeper, longer undesirable experiences. By being grateful you can soothe yourself through the test and accelerate the process to more desirable times. It’s like a warm glow on a cold night.
In life there is always contrast, and that contrast helps bring perspective. The challenging times can help you learn and grow stronger – and they can help you appreciate the good times even more. The challenging people can teach you how you want to be – and they can help you appreciate kind, generous people even more. The challenging emotions can help you reflect – and they can help you appreciate the joyful emotions even more.
Don’t let your ability to be grateful depend on other people or circumstances. Choose gratitude even for the tough times and know they won’t last forever.