Gratitude

By Shamyla Tareen

My ​mother and I went out for a walk ​a few mornings ago. It was right before Thanksgiving​.​ The sun was ​warm and​​ the air was ​pretty ​crisp and chilly for a Florida morning. It felt good to walk with her, knowing that my time with my parents is limited, knowing that illness or accident​s​ can take away any ​of us​ at any time.

She ​began to open up her heart. ​She talked about the things she wished for us that every mother wishes for their child. Then ​she compare​d​ us, her children, to other people’s children. She was talking ​in that way that​ many parents do​ – ​telling me ​what “so-and-so’s” kids are doing – ​things, milestones that we, her ​kids, hadn’t ​achieved. She mentioned things she naturally​, as a mother,​ couldn’t help but wonder about, and ​yearn for​, and maybe even have done differently for us​.

I listened​ but was ready to spring to my defense.​ ​I listened indignantly and full of dread and self assertion​. No child, no matter how old they are, likes to hear ​what they’re lacking!​ I tried to steer our conversation towards acceptance and the fact that everyone ha​s​ trials in ​their ​li​fe​, and everyone’s kids did things or were different than how their parents initially dreamed they would be. What ​we did not discuss ​was a simple concept: ​gratitude​ for each other.

That’s the work that I do​ now​. It wasn’t so much that I learned about gratitude in graduate school; it’s more recent, in the workshops I’ve attended​,​ the literature I​’ve been​ read​ing​​,​ and the conversations with other wise people who are living ​lives of gratitude. You could say gratitude is the new big thing, and it’s everywhere. (Google it – you’ll see!)

At first, and even now, I struggle with this notion. I feel angry and rebellious. Gratitude is mentioned in every major religion and self help book, yet sometimes I scoff (especially on days when things are not going my way). My though​t​ process goes something like this: “Gratitude? That’s a good one! Ha!! You want ME to express gratitude with all the terrible things have happened ​to me? And the things that I STILL want ​often don’t happen! Why? I’d rather ​throw something. Why should I be grateful when life is SO HARD? Yeah, Yeah, I GET that I am breathing and the sun is shining and I’m living in a nice home, OKAY. So exactly HOW is being grateful supposed to make ME a better or happier person? And even if I was, which I won’t be – what good is it ? It won’t make my dreams come true! I can’t change my family. I can’t stop wars. I can’t change anything! This is so corny! This is so trite! This is so simplistic and I can’t! I WON’T.”

That’s an example of being human. But it’s also not a very helpful thought trajectory.

I keep reading that researchers have found that being grateful alleviates, or even eliminates, so many health and mental health issues, like Depression, Anxiety, ​Heart ​D​isease, and other ailments. Thoughts trigger physiological changes in our bodies. People who live a life of gratitude report that they don’t wait for certain events to happen to THEN feel thankful for them – they just live their lives thanking either God or the Universe for what they already have. And that makes all the difference. I love the words I keep reading that are associated with gratitude- Joy. Enthusiasm. Cooperation. Energy. Optimism. Cheer. Alertness. Happiness. Peace of Mind. The list goes on.

I know some people ​who live their lives this way. The other day, I was complaining a lot to a colleague and she stopped me cold and started listing out all the things that she knew had just happened- wonderful, amazing opportunities – that may not be on my timeline, but have happened nonetheless. ​She could see it. Why couldn’t I?​ ​ Could I​ be thankful for my life despite the setbacks and the frustrations, and have a higher happiness set-point? All last year I blogged about the Happiness Project. It definitely changed my life and people mentioned that they also noticed things I wrote about in their own lives. But the one key ingredient that bound every Happiness Blog together was gratitude!

gratitudeSo here is what I ​will do for myself. I am going to try something new (​a​gain)​.​ I am going to reframe, and look at the bigger picture. Yes, that means counting my blessings for the gifts in my life, something ​my grandmothers talked about and I pooh paah’d. I ​can stop to be greatful the gifts in my life that are painfully and fearfully wrapped. What I have is good. That doesn’t mean I won’t strive for more. It just means I won’t live in a state of longing and deficit anymore.

​I counted a few opportunities I am grateful for right now. Here are four of the things that I could think of right off the bat:

​1) ​Most of my adult life has been about learning new and different ways to live. I’ve had the opportunity to​ ​grow and to heal​.​ I’ve talked to wise teachers and read new research. Maybe having ​tangible proof that I am able to change my life whenever I want, by changing the way I think, is the biggest gift ever.

​2) ​My mother and I walked in the sun. I am grateful we could spend time together when once, we couldn’t.​ ​​We were able to hear each other out and see our different points of view. ​So my mom and I can learn to be more grateful for what we have​,​ instead of wishing each one was more different​ and had done different things for each other.​​​

​3) ​I got to walk casually down a street with sun​shine on my face​. I am grateful I can​,​ when once that was impossible.

​4) ​I live my life the way I want to, even with the mistakes and the hardships. I still fumble​ in the dark, getting by with​ ​help from my friends and family​ and​ mentors. And I am grateful I can​.​

Here are some helpful links about gratitude:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expanding gratitude

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/21/gratitude-healthy-benefits_n_2147182.html

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/giving-thanks#2

2 Comments on “Gratitude

  1. Wonderful ! Loved it ! The topic is much needed one with all the materialistic world around us in which we have almost forgotten to say thanks for a beautiful sunny day , to thank we have food clean house and children and for those beautiful moments which will become just memories tomorrow with loved ones . Nothing will matter when we ll
    Be leaving this world . Gratitude is what matters and it matters the most .
    Beautifully written . I feel you .

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