I had a bad day recently. It happens. But it was a bad day prompted by a bit of a life crisis, maybe even a bit of an identity crisis. I am sure you have had these. The crisis when you look at yourself and question? The question could be “Why?’, and if we are honest, it often is. Why can’t I….. , Why does this happen? Why won’t they…., Why do they…… . And then I realized, or reminded myself, that I should be grateful. I should be grateful because I can choose how I react. I can choose how I am going to change if I am not happy. I can change my circumstances. The only person stopping me is , well, me. So I choose to examine what is frustrating me. I choose to see what I can change (and , yep, cliche coming, accept what I can’t.) and how I am going to do it. I have free will. Free will gives me amazing power!! So I’m buckling up, examining, and choosing. The feeling of gratitude that has left me with- let’s just say ”I’m hooked on a feeling, I’m high on believing”.
Expressions of Gratitude
Expressing feelings of gratitude can have such a calming effect on me. As the temperatures hover below 0, I think they can give me a warm feeling as well. Far beyond the feeling we get as we express gratitude is the feeling we give to others when we express gratitude to them or for them. Like love, gratitude blossoms when it is shared. Expressing gratitude can cheer someone up, remind them that things are alright, help people to remember joy, and validate purpose.
Earlier this week a former classmate’s daughter passed away. It brought up so many emotions for me, but what it really made me remember is that we must express our gratitude for it to be real. What costs us so little can make someone feel such love.
I have many instances in my past where I could have reached out to express gratitude that someone was in my life, that someone had been in my life, and I did not. I was busy with life-caught up in everyday things and monumental things. What I don’t have in my life are times that I have expressed gratitude and wished I had not. I cannot promise you that every time you express gratitude towards someone that it will have a profound effect. I can promise it won’t hurt.
Can we find a state of gratitude for ourselves if we do not speak up for others when they are not able to do so?
When we live among others, we choose to be part of a community, and with that come responsibilities. We are not always the strongest in our community. Sometimes we may find ourselves the weakest in a given situation. Think how that makes you feel- do you feel helpless, hopeless, angry, scared, frustrated? Hopefully, that happens rarely, but I am sure we have all experienced it at some time in our lives. If you could minimize the number of times others felt that way, would you take action? Should you take action? What about if, by taking action, it put you in the spotlight, perhaps in a way that might be uncomfortable? Would it be worth it if you made your community better? What if it equalized things for people who were in a weaker position? What if it exposed corruption or wrong-doing? How about nourishing others in a time of need?
We cannot complain about situations if we are not willing to look for ways to make them better. We all need to remember all that we have to offer. Sometimes the things we have to offer help indirectly, and that is okay! Infusing our communities with kindness, equality, humbleness, thankfulness, and nourishment changes our environment for the better. If others can see there are people who care about things other than what directly affects them, the ripples of good feelings will continue to grow outward until they reach other communities.
We have the power to affect change- to find a true state of gratitude, it needs to be more than just us as an individual. Gratitude if affected by everything around us. We not only have an obligation to practice gratitude, but it is a requirement to sustaining one’s own sense of gratitude.
Is what is right for you always what is right?
Many times we choose to do something for ourselves or our family. How many times do we make that choice without thinking whether or not what we are doing is right? If you are waiting in line, and you are next, but there is the a mother with a screaming child and two items behind you, by going ahead, that might not be what is right, though you certainly have not done anything “wrong”.
What about befriending the coach of your child’s lacrosse team, so that they want to play your child over another? Now things start to get more complex. On the surface, as a parent, by establishing a relationship where the coach plays your child because you are friends, you may feel like you have done what is best for your child. Does this mean it is right? If another player is just plain better and works just as hard or harder, then is that right? If it teaches your child that mom or dad kissing butt to get you ahead is what it takes, is that right? If it deprives your child an opportunity to learn how to deal with disappointment, is that right?
Is it wrong?
When I think of finding my gratitude, I try to remember that we are all connected. Things that are wrong are usually not right just for one or two people. We don’t live in a bubble, and are all connected, so making sure that what you choose is right across the board is just one step in finding your gratitude.
My youngest, who is 12, and I have been having some great, insightful conversations lately. It is always an amazing thing to watch your kids grow! Talk about gratitude! Yesterday we were discussing that even if a wrong does not directly affect you personally , it makes it no less of a wrong. We looked at two different instances:
The first one was simple- I am not gay, so the same-sex marriage issue does not directly affect me. Does the fact that it does not directly affect me make it any less of an injustice?
The second instance is, a little more complex, perhaps?
My son played 8th grade football last year. We had just moved to the school district, but he was there for the first day of practice. On the second day of summer practice, the coach saw me as my son (C )was getting into the car. He came over and told me he hoped C was not too frustrated. When I inquired as to why C would be frustrated, he said “well, because all the positions were taken before he got here”. I don’t know about C’s frustration level, but I certainly was. Not bothering to look at a kid to see what he could or could not do? Over the season, I watched loss after loss by 35, 40, sometime almost 50 points- and the coach played the same 11 or so kids, never giving the other kids an opportunity to see the field, to see what they might do, or to develop them. Not surprisingly, the 11 or 12 kids who were playing had overly vocal parents who were in the coach’s ear every time he turned around. Fast forward to his freshman year- C is attending a private HS, not our public high school. I was at a local gathering and the mother of a current 8th grader was talking about how great an experience her son was having with football as compared to the previous year. They have completely revamped the middle school program, removed the coaches, and moved the beloved freshmen football coaches in to the middle school. Yes, that was great! The only unfortunate part was that this left the same kids (the current freshmen) without those coaches. The other mother then said “but the new freshman coach, everyone loves him! “ Well, that is not what I have heard. I also had been to their first two games at that point. I said something to the effect of “but it seems to be the same old stuff. In fact, he is not playing any of the kids who have come from CYO (Catholic Youth Org.) “ Now, the CYO kids- some of them are good- they were well coached over the years, and several of them now playing for the public high school had made the CYO all-star team, and one was the CYO MVP. The mom then asked if C was playing- I said- no, he was attending a private school- her reply “oh- then what do you care?!” She was not that nice about it, either. Since my son is no longer in that particular freshman football program, does that make what is occurring any less of an injustice?
With the same-sex marriage issue- if all men and women are equal under the law, then if some men or women cannot marry, but some can, that is an injustice. Similar to not letting people vote due to their ethnicity, sex or religion.
Injustices that happen in our school district affect every student. Unfair practices trickle down into morale throughout the school. It also does not teach kids that hard work can get you ahead. It does not teach kids to stand on their own. All of these things trickle into society- specifically into the little town we live in.
So, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If a wrong does not affect you immediately and directly, is it any less of a wrong? Asking, stating, demanding that wrongs are fixed will help more and more people find their gratitude. It is easier to find YOUR gratitude when others are finding theirs.
Where does anger play in finding your gratitude?
Can you be angry and still be grateful? Sure! I am not Pollyanna. There are things that drive me up a wall, off a cliff, crazy- well, you get the picture. It is how we choose to deal with things, how we choose to express our anger, which will determine if we can find our gratitude.
On Thursday of this week I had run some errands and was heading home. When I got to the turn on the main road to my street, I found a truck and work crew filling in the little cracks in the road with tar. I was not in a particular hurry, so rolled down the window and indicated to the flagger that I would just wait, no problem. He violently signaled me to “go around.” Sure that he did not realize that his truck was in front of my road, I stuck my head out the window and said “no worries, I can wait”. Well, then all hell broke loose, though I am still not sure why. He started SCREAMING at me at the top of his lungs. It was mean, it was nasty, and it was abusive. By now I am sure that my eyes were the size of dinner plates. I calmly told him that this was my road, and I was fine with waiting. He again commenced screaming, came towards my car, and became even more abusive. I was now a little frightened and a lot- MAD. I went around, then proceeded to turn around and wait the other direction to turn onto my road. The whole time as I was driving around- the man continued to scream at me- idiot- you’re so stupid, what did you think, you could drive through the truck- and more abuse in the same vein. By the time I drove the quarter mile down to my driveway, I had progressed to furious. How dare anyone speak to me that way. No one has ever spoken to me like that. (And I have teenage daughters- so my barometer is higher than I would care to admit these days .) I called my husband and told him I wanted to go take care of this- he was not interested in me going back to “discuss” this with the flagger-man. I thought a little more- why was I so mad? The answer was actually very simple- no one deserves to be spoken to that way. EVER. Not me, not the old lady behind me, not anyone. I was going to stay mad unless I could turn this into something productive. If people are continuously allowed to lower the bar on what is acceptable behavior, it will continue to deteriorate. So I say- it is our obligation to remind people that living here peacefully with others comes with obligations to act in a decent manner.
(As I mentioned, I am not Pollyanna, so do not think for one second that my taxes were paying for this man’s salary did not cross my mind.)
Turning anger into positive reminders of how everyone should be treated, and politely calling people out on their behavior is a way of finding your gratitude- no need to be confrontational, just a calm reminder of what is and is not appropriate.
(What did I do, do you ask? I called our city office and was directed to the public safety director who oversees all contractors used by the city. I calmly explained what had happened, and stated that no one needed nor deserved to be treated in such a matter- that it was unacceptable, and asked her to get back with me as to how it was going to be handled. So- we shall see- …..)
Can you find gratitude in things you choose NOT to do?
The road not taken- a road that is often very long and paved with good intentions.- the clichés go on and on. How can choosing not to do something, how can choosing not to act, help you find your gratitude?
Every day we make choices. My husband and I often discuss that not making a decision is, in fact, making a decision, just one you choose not to make consciously, or one you choose not to take responsibility for. Not choosing is not the same as choosing not to act. If you are thinking with your good intentions intact, choosing not to act means carefully weighing options and deciding that your involvement would not be beneficial to you or others. As parents, friends, as family members, if we think first, we often will find that not choosing to act is actually acting with gratitude.
There seems to come a time in our lives where “everyone around us” is getting a divorce. The phrase “we aren’t going to takes sides” is bandied around. That phrase can have two very different meanings. On the one hand, it can mean “this is uncomfortable for me, it is too messy, I don’t know what to say or do”. This approach is more like choosing not to make a decision, similar to closing your eyes and hoping the situation goes away. It is a deflection from dealing with issues that can be very painful. It also closes down all lines of communication. The other meaning of the phrase leans more towards choosing not to act- by choosing not to take sides, but making it clear that you are there for emotional support, the door is open, communication is maintained. There is no reason that you have to be there for only one part of the couple. Keeping out of the anger, the mud-slinging, the choosing sides, allows you to remember that these problems are theirs, not yours. If they are both your friends, then choosing not to choose may definitely be the right decision, the one that will lead you to find your gratitude.
I didn’t blog on Sunday, or Monday, either. It certainly was not because I couldn’t come up with something to write about. Quite the opposite, really. In fact, I had trouble turning my brain off from all the potential topics for my next post. This ties in with why I didn’t post… I was just tired. It happens sometimes, and I have to give myself permission for that to be okay. It is hard- I am not used to not having a limitless or refillable tank of energy. That thought alone makes me tired. So since I DO have so many topics on which to write, I am going to write a couple extra to store away for those days when I am just, well, tired.
I also wanted to take the time to thank everyone who has been so very supportive of my new blog. For those who have written in with thoughts and potential topics that have YOU thinking, of course I welcome them! As the purpose of this blog is to get people thinking about how we have the ability to make everything around us better if we took the time, I love hearing your thoughts.
What I believe…… I believe that taking the time to be happy can make you be happy. I believe that promoting graciousness makes others happy and gracious. I believe you get what you give. Sometimes, you just have to stop the cycle of nastiness, pettiness, ungratefulness, anger or judgment. Emotionally, that can feel risky to many. Can you take the leap? Can you be the one to break the cycle?
If we look at it the other way, what does it cost you NOT to break the cycle? Are we willing to continue the downward spiral of anger and hate that has taken a larger place in our society? I am often struck by Al Pacino’s speech from “Any Given Sunday”. Football is used as a metaphor for life.
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we’re finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.
You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
one half step too late or to early
you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that’s going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.
I’ll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.
Now I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
What are you willing to sacrifice in order to have a better place to be? All around us there are people who want the same things we do if they could just quiet the chatter, the anger, and the resentment. All it takes is one small act, one inch, so to speak, to make a difference. Those inches, those differences, add up. They add up to smiles that make peoples morning, and get passed along all day. They are the words of kindness that add hope instead of despair. They are the small acts that can diffuse anger before it snowballs into an avalanche.
If you find your gratitude, it more often than not can help someone else find theirs, don’t you think?
Gratitude, giving thanks and expressing appreciation for the blessings and gifts of life is a natural human response. That said, why do we not, then, cultivate it? When did it cease to be a part of our everyday lives, a natural occurrence that we expressed and experienced just as we breathe?
Has instant gratification, our non-stop, hurry-hurry world taken away our ability to experience a state of gratitude, despite the absolute need for it? The uplifting feeling we get when experiencing gratitude is essential to our well-being. It negates anger, relieves stress, and heals our hurt.
Are you willing to give up on finding gratitude? If so, what cost will it have? Can we quantify the benefits of the feeling of gratitude? In each interaction you had today, did you feel gratitude? Here is one we all had today. Let’s look from both sides.
While driving down the road today, traffic slowed and you found yourself crawling up behind the car in front of you. To your right was a car on a side street, looking to cross the road and turn left to go the other way down the road. You slowed down and left a space for the driver to pull out and be on his way. He pulled out, and gave you a big smile and wave of thanks.
While driving down the road today, traffic slowed and you found yourself crawling up behind the car in front of you. To your right was a car on a side street, looking to cross the road and turn left to go the other way down the road. You pulled up directly behind the car in front of you. So what- the driver on that side street didn’t have the right of way- he can wait.
The first scenario had you waving back in reply with a smile, and took nothing from you- it cost you nothing to let the driver through. What did you receive?
In the second scenario, a conscious decision not to be gracious was made. Legally, yes, you did nothing wrong. But what did it cost you? The decision to not acknowledge someone else’s need, someone else’s desire, and someone else’s place within you circle occurred.
Did you practice gratitude today?