My journey to living in gratitude began in 2010. And let me say that up until that time, until I was age forty-five, I was a complainer, griper, and a whiner, with absolutely no reason to complain!
Luckily, I was saved from these very wasteful, counter-productive habits when I was given a blank journal one Thanksgiving season by a New Thought minister, who told us if we journaled five things we were grateful for forty days, our life would change exponentially for the better.
I dutifully wrote my gratitude lists, and oh my god, my life did change. It worked! I let go of complaining and started focusing on all the good in my life, and there is plenty.
1. I have written five or ten things to be grateful for almost every day for years and years. Each morning and each evening, I also reflect on what I am thankful for.
2. I have realized (and I am thankful) that it is now my calling and passion to share the power of gratitude to inspire others.
3, Because of my passion to share gratitude, I have written and published five books on gratitude!
Nowadays, I keep my gratitude practice alive and well by sending out daily email gratitude reflections to a group, and I also write letters to the universe several times a week about what I am thankful for now, and in advance. I find that each year, my gratitude practice expands. Nowadays, I often write paragraphs rather than a short list about what I am grateful for.
Did you know that scientific studies prove that being grateful helps to be more peaceful, more joyful, and healthier? It is said that you cannot be simultaneously mad or depressed while being grateful, and I’ve found this to be true.
It is my belief that we can almost always find a reason to be grateful, even when confronted with tragedies, unexpected disasters, or even ill health—a practice known as “radical gratitude.” And this holds true for challenging people in our lives as well. Here are two disclaimers:
- Forgiveness and acceptance can often be key to finding the gratitude in a situation, but these two concepts will not be discussed in this article. The article would be too long!
- One more disclaimer: I realize there are some tragedies where a person cannot ever feel gratitude, such as losing a loved one or being sexually abused. It may not work for everybody and every situation.
But more often than not, we can find the gratitude in negative situations in our life.
My Personal Experience of Finding Gratitude in Tough Times
In the summer of 2018, Oregon (where I live) had many devastating wildfires. We watched in horror and disbelief as it came closer and closer to our home. It became obvious we would probably be evacuated. The smoke was black, firefighters and National Guard were checking everyone’s IDs before letting them enter the street to our house.
Neighbors and I got out of our cars to stop and watch it burning fields and trees so close to our homes. I tried to keep a positive attitude, but it got to be only a half-mile up the street from our house. Very, very scary! I love where we live, and the thought of losing our home was terrifying.
On a Saturday afternoon, as I tried to take a nap to escape, our phones started ringing and texting that we were in Level 3, evacuation time. Get out now.
We took our dogs and my cockatiels, computer, important papers, and some clothes and left the rest. We were evacuated for six days and got to come home—all houses and neighbors were thankfully safe and sound. Here are my gratitude takeaways:
1. We were taken in by friends from the Center for Spiritual Living where I attend, and actually about eight other people had offered us refuge as well. I am very grateful for that, and for Alison and Gary who made us feel at home, helping me set my computer up at their house so I could work and putting up with us and our messy pets. We all became much closer friends through this experience, and we socialize with them regularly.
2. I am now grateful for the firefighters and all personnel who helped—in my heart, not only in my head. They are amazing!
3. I think the biggest gratitude I have for the wildfire experience is that I was able to surrender and let go of coming back to our home. This was the only way to stay sane, and that was a gift. After all, it is love, not possessions that matter, and I got clearer on that through the experience.
When I was thirty-five, I lost my beautiful mother when she was only fifty-seven through cancer. This was a horrible time in my life. I remember waking up feeling good and then immediately feeling dread and sorrow, when I remembered that Mom would die soon.
One of my gratitude takeaways from that grief-stricken time is that I was Mom’s main caregiver, and that brought me much closer to her in those last nine months. My sisters and I got closer because of that experience, and that was the first time I got introduced to A Course in Miracles, a spiritual set of lessons that changed my life for the better.
My mother had what I called “Angels” helping her from The Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, CA and they studied A Course in Miracles, which prompted me to study it as well, because they were so giving and inspirational to me.
Also, before she died, my mother spent time reflecting on her cancer and what could have caused it, and felt that being a people-pleaser and fearful all her life had prompted the disease. She left me with the message not to be like her, which I am very grateful for and have always remembered, and changed my codependent behavior because of it. Additionally, we had time to say goodbye, which cancer usually provides, and that was a big blessing too.
One more example that changed my life incredibly in so many ways was going through a divorce after twenty-four years. This was a very difficult decision, I wasn’t sure if it was the right one, and my ex-husband ended up deciding for us. I was heartbroken. So heartbroken that I finally sought out the Center for Spiritual Living, in Santa Rosa, CA, which many people in my life had gently suggested I might attend because they felt I would love it too. And I did!
From the moment I entered, I got tears in my eyes, seeing all the loving, warm people. As I listened to the talk, I realized even more that this would be my spiritual home the rest of my life, and it has been.
I am eternally grateful for my divorce now. I took the spiritual classes voraciously; became a licensed practitioner, now serving in Oregon where I live. I am blessed to teach spiritual classes and workshops, and in 2019, I spoke at two Centers for Spiritual Living about the topics in this article.
I eventually met my second husband, who I have been with for almost twenty years, and we are much more compatible. He asked me to move to Oregon and I did. And I am in love with the forest, rivers, and beauty. None of this would have happened had I stayed in my first marriage. Very thankful!
In each of these cases, some gratitude was easily available, but more came later. It may take time, even many years to find the gratitude, but looking for it helps your healing.
I want to mention several well-known people and how they found radical gratitude in their lives. Each is very inspiring to me!
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who ended up being put into a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and amazingly, found a way to stay positive. He ended up writing a very impactful book as a result of his experience—Man’s Search for Meaning—which has sold fifteen million copies and thus, impacted so many people’s lives.
His premise is that we need to find meaning in life, and that will help carry us through even the hardest situations. He was a walking example. Here is a quote from his powerful book:
“Everything can be taken…but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Will Pye who wrote a wonderful book on the subject of radical gratitude, The Gratitude Prescription, after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, through gratitude, healed himself completely.
Here is a quote from his excellent book:
“In looking at our self and our life story through the lens of gratitude, we can come into contact with the beauty and heroism inherent in every human alive. Gratitude for self supports a compassion encompassing all of us.”
There are other examples too, of physical healing, where the person ends up being grateful for the illness. Anita Moorjani realized on a deep level that we are love after a near death experience, and could let go of her fear of cancer completely, and had a spontaneous remission. It is her calling to share her findings with others, and she wrote a beautiful book about her experience, Dying to Be Me, which has reached millions of people across the world.
Helen Keller has always been one of my heroes. Even though she was deaf and blind at such a young age, she somehow always found reasons to express her gratitude. I share a very powerful quote from her:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart. I thank God for my handicaps. So much has been given me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
In conclusion, I truly believe that we can almost always find gratitude in even the most challenging situations. It may take time, so be patient. Life is about how we respond to it, and we are always at choice, like Victor Frankl and Helen Keller so beautifully prove. I feel my own life examples also show this.
Being radically grateful is not always easy but incredibly worthwhile. Our attitude truly affects our lives, and living with gratitude is powerful beyond measure.