By David Gannon
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The holidays cause most of us to reflect about many things in our lives. Perhaps one of the things to think about is gratitude — an appreciation of the favors in our lives. Of course we should learn to approach life with gratitude every day, but somehow this time of the year may prompt you to evaluate what is really important. While this idea may seem obvious, being grateful does not come naturally or easily. It is much easier to notice what is wrong.
Telling your troubles to someone else can also help you to feel better temporarily and reap rewards in the sympathy from others. If you talk about how great your life is maybe people don’t want to listen and might even think you are boasting. And don’t forget that talking about your problems with others also gives them an opportunity to tell you how difficult their lives are. “Let me tell you what happened to me” is a common response. Hopefully everyone gets a little empathy out of it and we all feel better for a while. We feel like survivors.
But it all comes down to perspective. A large problem to you may seem insignificant to someone else. Time and distance may help you become more objective. A problem today may be forgotten next week. Challenges may seem meaningful in the small and narrow view of everyday life but it might help to back up and get a broader view. Think about the pictures you have seen of planet earth from outer space. It looks so large and we feel so small. In the vastness of the universe your problems should seem just a little bit smaller.
Think about the things that bother you in a typical day or week. How important are they? Your dog tracked dirt across the carpet again. Be grateful that you have a carpet? Somebody somewhere has a dirt floor and flimsy walls of a hut. What about that cell phone battery that went dead just when you wanted to call or text a friend? How upsetting that can be! I wouldn’t be surprised that there are people on the earth who have never heard of a telephone. Maybe everyone would agree that those high electric bills from running the air conditioning are just awful. Right? How fortunate you are if you are able stay in a cool, comfortable home while temperatures soar. Some of these ideas may sound silly now but think about the things you commonly complain about.
To be sure there are some real challenges in life especially when your health is involved. Maybe walking is more difficult than it used to be. Or you have to take medications to keep our blood pressure down, manage your diabetes, reduce your cholesterol, or keep your heart in rhythm. You might be experiencing chronic pain now. Certainly some of these are not small challenges, but we are so lucky to have the amazing medical treatments that allow us to live relatively normal lives in spite of our health problems. Perhaps you don’t have a job right now or at least a well-paying job and it is hard to make the money stretch. That can be tough but you will be OK. It might mean giving up some things that you don’t need or that you have earn some extra money with a part time job for a while. Certainly not the way you want your life to be but still manageable. There is a lesson to learn in every situation. It is not hard to find a problem if you are looking for one.
Gratitude is the key to happiness. Some ideas to increase gratitude include:
Reflect on what you have not what you don’t have.
Look for the positive in any experience.
Accept circumstances you cannot change and focus on those that you can.
Be more in the moment instead of spending your time worrying about an unknown future.
Do not compare yourself to others who are more fortunate. There is always someone who is not as lucky as you are.
Think about how your life would be without some of the things you value now.
Get things into perspective. Write down something that is bothering you today and see if it seems as important a month or year from now.
Think about the really important things in your life. If you have your health celebrate it and take care of it. If you have a loving family cherish it. If you have enough money to keep a roof over your head, clean clothes, a warm home and food — count your blessings. Once you have mastered gratitude for the good things you have try to find the blessings and lessons even in seemingly tough situations. Start out each day saying or praying “Thank you for all that I have, what is to come, and the strength to overcome my challenges.” It will change your life.
David Gannon, Ph.D., Psychological and Family Consultants, Canton, Ohio.
HealthStyle: Develop an attitude of gratitude
By David Gannon