GRATITUDE IS Mar 17, 2008 1:33:03 GMT -5
Post by Blu on Mar 17, 2008 1:33:03 GMT -5
GRATITUDE IS – The Mother of Joy – “Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. She gives most who gives with joy.” Mother Teresa
I don’t know about you, but in general, there hasn’t been a lot of joy, that opening and swelling of the heart, in my life. It wasn’t because of my circumstances, because they weren’t particularly hard, but because of my mental training. Growing up, I learned to plan and to work hard. Accomplishments were good because they led somewhere I was planning to go; high school, college, a good job, a relationship. But they weren’t to be relished and celebrated in and of themselves.
Like so many of us, I was so busy climbing the ladder of success, that I took no time to enjoy the journey. I was too busy getting on to the next challenge. When I think back on particular occasions for joy in my past ~~ graduating valedictorian of my high school, getting married, making a bestseller list for Random Acts of Kindness, for example ~~ I realize that as soon as I attained each goal, my eyes were immediately on the next ‘prize’; getting to the top of my college class, having a baby, getting on the New York Times bestseller list. It was as if I was a machine, mindlessly churning out accomplishments and not stopping to relish the journey along the way.
But I got sick and tired of a joyless existence, and so have thought a lot in the past few years about how to bring more joy into my life. The more I think about it, the more I believe that joy and gratitude are inseparable. Joy is defined in the dictionary as an ‘emotion evoked by sell-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires,’ while gratitude is that ‘state of being appreciative of benefits received.’ In other words, whenever we are appreciative, we are filled a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy;
So, I determined to stop climbing mindlessly to some undefined peak of accomplishment and focus my attention on all the wonderful things that were happening in my day-to-day existence. As I do, without my even trying, joy creeps in.
How about you? As Sarah Ban Breathnach puts it, ‘Begin today. Declare out loud to the Universe that you are willing to let go of struggle and eager to learn through joy.’ Then think of all that you have accomplished today and celebrate each feat, no matter its size.
GRATITUDE Makes Us Young – “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Young children are such exuberant, joy-filled creatures, eager to embrace life in all its mystery and majesty. Everything is new and exciting, everything ~~ a bubble, a snowflake, a mud puddle ~~ is a gift. But something in the process of growing up so often takes the juice out of us. We become encrusted, hard, jaded. We lose our joy, our exuberance, our passionate embrace of life. We trudge instead of skip, retreat instead of explore, ‘too old for that,’ whatever ‘that’ is.
This drying up is so common that when we meet a vibrant, joy-filled older person, he or she stands out as a singular exception. But we don’t have to lose the happiness or juiciness of youth. All we need to do is to tap into our sense of gratitude, for when we do, we are like little children again, seeing the world for the first time.
In ‘Simple Pleasure of the Garden’, Dawna Markova shares a story about such a woman. “Several years ago, I was walking in March along a gravel road that led to the ocean in Rhode Island. A very old and thin woman came hobbling down a driveway toward me. I waved and continued walking, but as I passed, she grabbed my arm, turned around and began to pull me in the direction of her house. I instantly thought of the witch in Hansel and Gretel, and tried to pull back, but that only made her clutch tighter around my wrist. Besides, she didn’t cackle, so I relented.
“She didn’t say a word, in fact, until we approached her house, a shingle-style cottage with green shutters and a front lawn erupting everywhere in purple crocus. She released me there, throwing her arms up in the air and shouting, ‘Look at this splendor! Isn’t it a miracle?’ ”
This old woman was open to the magic and beauty of life, and her sparkling eyes and eagerness to share made her and everything around her more vibrant and alive.
GRATITUDE Makes Us Feel Good – “Mental sunshine will cause the flowers of peace, happiness, and prosperity to grow upon the face of the Earth. Be a creator of mental sunshine.” Graffiti on a Wall in Berkeley, California
Tom comes from a family of highly successful businesspeople who taught him to climb the ladder of success by criticizing him whenever he did something wrong. He learned early on that life is ‘hard work’, that it’s a ‘dog-eat-dog world’, and that to get ahead he had to never make a mistake. While he did succeed, including getting an M.B.A. from a top business school, he was never happy. To him, work seemed only drudgery, he spent much of his time noticing what he did wrong; he didn’t assert himself at the meeting, he should have made more calls. Most of the time he felt lifeless and depressed.
Finally, Tom went to a therapist to ask for a prescription for Prozac. But since he really didn’t want to take an antidepressant if he didn’t have to, at the therapist’s suggestion, he agreed to first try something else for one month. Before he started work in the morning, he was to ask himself, ‘What do I feel grateful for about myself?’ In this way, he reminded himself of his resources, strength, and talents. Then, at the end of the day, he was to finish work by asking. “What did I do today that I feel good about?’
“Do you know what I discovered?” he told me. ‘Gratitude is a natural upper. It works so well that now, whenever I feel my energy going down during the day, I ask myself, what do I feel grateful for in this moment?’ By concentrating on what he’s doing right and what he appreciates about himself, Tom overcame his depression and has begun to look forward to work.
Gratitude makes us feel good because it helps us widen our frame of vision. Under depression or stress, we can develop tunnel vision, seeing only this problem, that difficulty. We can get overtaken by a heavy, dark feeling of despair. But when we experience a sense of gratitude, we give ourselves a dose of mental sunshine. Suddenly the world seems brighter, and we have more options.
And the greatest thing is that as we experience the mental sunshine of gratitude, we begin to glow with sunshine ourselves. Suddenly not only is the world brighter, but we are too. Soon we notice that our lives are full of people who want to be around us because we exude peacefulness, happiness, and joy.
GRATITUDE Promotes Health ~~ Feelings of gratitude release positive endorphins throughout the body, creating health ~~ Sharon Huffman
Josephine is a seventy-seven-year woman who, in her late fifties, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and scheduled for surgery a few days later. While waiting for the operation, she sat in her porch swing and gave thanks for all the wonderful things in her life. She wrote a letter of thanks to each of her family members, called them around her, and went into the hospital. The night before surgery, she suddenly saw “what looked like a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair smiling at me and radiating light. She said she was an angel who felt my love and she had come to reassure me that everything was OK, that I would have plenty of time to fulfill my life’s purpose. And then she said, ‘Always remember that it was your love and your appreciation that brought healing to you.’ “ It turned out that the tumor was gone, and Josephine was sent home without surgery.
Not all healings are as miraculous as Josephine’s but recent scientific research has begun to indicate that positive emotions, such as gratitude and love, have beneficial effects on health. They do so by strengthening and enhancing the immune system, which enables the body to resist disease and recover more quickly from illness, through the release of endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Among other effects, they stimulate dilation of the blood vessels, which leads to a relaxed heart.
Conversely, negative emotions such as worry, anger, and hopelessness reduce the number and slow down the movement of disease-fighting white cells in our bloodstream's, and contribute to the development of stroke and heart disease by dumping high levels of adrenaline into the bloodstream. Adrenaline constricts blood vessels, particularly to the heart, raising blood pressure and potentially damaging arteries and the heart itself.
What this means is that the more we experience a sense of gratitude, the more endorphins and the less adrenaline we pump into our systems, thus contributing to longer, healthier lives. As we count our blessings, we literally bathe ourselves inwardly in good hormones. And while we can’t guarantee that a sense of appreciation will cure us as it did Josephine, we can be sure that it will make us feel better.
GRATITUDE - Eradicates Worry – “You cannot be grateful and unhappy at the same time.” A Woman to Dr. Tom Costa
If worry were a paying job, I would be a rich woman. Somehow during my childhood, I got the idea that worrying could actually stave off future disaster, and as I entered adulthood, I became convinced that if I were to stop worrying, took my eye off the ball, as it were, that something dreadful would happen. If I worried enough about being poor, I wouldn’t be. If I worried enough about my partner’s safety, nothing would happen to him. If I worried enough about my stepson’s health, he wouldn’t get sick. There was no room in my heart for happiness because worry took up all the space. [Indeed I was convinced that if I were too happy, it would somehow hex the situation. If I got too happy about love, for example, I wouldn’t worry sufficiently and therefore it would be taken from me.]
In my forties, I have been working on letting go of my compulsive worrying, and I have been amazed at how swiftly a sense of gratefulness banishes the worry warts.
Worried about money? I focus on the fact that so far, I have always had what I needed and right now, I have enough. Worried about health? I focus on the amount of good health I’m thankful to be experiencing right now. Worried about ~~ my favorite ~~ a loved one being taken suddenly in an accident? I focus on how grateful I am that they are in my life right now.
I think tapping into the wellspring of gratitude works for two reasons. First, worry is always about the future, if only the next hour or minute, whereas gratitude is in the here and now. Cast over your list of worries. Aren’t they always about what might or might not happen? You are worried about the reaction of your boss tomorrow to your presentation. You’re worried about how you are going to afford to send your son to college. You’re worried about the test results. In every case, you project yourself into the future and image something bad happening. As Andre Dubus points out, “It is not hard to live through a day if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand.” Gratitude brings you back to the present moment, to all that is working perfectly right now. Tomorrow may bring difficulties, but for right now, things are pretty good.
Gratefulness also eliminates worry because it reminds us of the abundance of our universe. Yes, something bad might happen, but given all that you have received so far, chances are you will continue to be supported on your journey through life, even in ways you would never have guessed or chosen for yourself.
GRATITUDE – Draws People to Us – “Sometimes I go about with pity for myself and all the while Great Winds are carrying me across the sky.” Ojibway Saying
I have a friend who can’t seem to find one good thing about her life. She complains constantly about her job, her coworkers, and her relationships with men. She puts herself down a good bit, too. It does no good whatsoever for me to point out all the good things that I see in her life. It just starts another round of ‘poor me’. After I spend an afternoon with her, I feel cranky, depressed, and, frankly, bored. I notice that I try to avoid getting together with her.
The opposite is true about my friend Abby. Abby has had a hard life, too. She wasn’t born into a wealthy family, she has raised a son by herself, put herself through college, and taken care of aged and ill relatives. But she is cheerful and upbeat most of the time, and I love being around herm, because when we’re together, life seems easy and joyful.
Recently, I made the observation that she had a great career and seemed to be appreciated by her boss and company. She replied, “Oh, yes! I love my job and I’m lucky to have it. Every morning when I drive to work, I grab the steering wheel and thank God for my job. For the job that paid for this nice car I wouldn’t have otherwise, for the nice people I work with in a beautiful office and for a boss that treats me and everyone else so well. I’m absolutely grateful for what I have and make a point to give thanks on my way to work. It grounds me and starts off my day on a positive note.”
I am convinced that it is Abby’s sense of gratitude that gives her such an upbeat attitude. It’s also why I believe, she has more friends than anyone else I know. For when we are grateful, we exude happiness and that makes us magnets that draw other people toward us. They want to be around that exuberant energy.
Gratitude not only draws people to us, but it helps us keep those who are in our sphere. When we see the glass a half-full, rather than half-empty, we notice what is there rather than dwelling on what is not. When we notice what’s there, we get out of our self-absorption and realize that there are people around us, many of whom have done wonderful things for us. And when we express our gratitude for their presence in our lives, it’s more likely that those people will want to continue to be around us.
GRATITUDE – The Antidote to Bitterness and Resentment – “The more light you allow within you, the brighter the world you live in will be.” Shakti Gawain
Twenty years ago, Cynthia, a petite, talented woman in her late twenties, got divorced in a terrible breakup. Two decades later, bitter and resentful, she is sill obsessed with her ex-husband, bad-mouthing him to her children and friends whenever she gets a chance, convinced that he ruined her life. In a way, of course, he did. Because she kept focusing on her pain and resentment, she was never able to heal and move on. Hurt and hateful, she hasn’t been able to attract new love in her life, and her now-grown children avoid her like the plague.
Have you ever met someone so bitter about their life that they feel like a black hole sucking away all the energy around them? Whether we call them pessimists, ingrates, or those who always see the glass a half-empty, they are a drag to be around. So focused on what hasn’t worked for them they can’t see the ways they have been the recipients of gifts, blessings, and surprises.
Most of us aren’t total black holes, but when we fail to give thanks for what happens in our lives, we can get hung up in bitterness that prevents us from developing emotionally and spiritually. If we fail to grow, the light inside us grows dim.
Bitterness is a poison that snuffs the light of our souls, hardening us to life’s pleasures and joys by keeping us focused only on what is wrong. When the man I lived with for fourteen years left me, he said it was because I was turning bitter and he didn’t want to stick around to see it. Although there were other reasons for our breakup, including many he was responsible for, after the pain of the loss had subsided I gave thanks to him for the wake-up call; I was turning into a resentful woman, and that was the last thing on Earth I wanted to be.
I’m determined not to sink into bitterness again. While there are plenty of things in life to be justifiably annoyed, angry, or hurt at, that doesn’t mean that I should completely ignore all that is beautiful, good, and touching. I want my soul to shine with an overflowing of love, and practicing gratitude is one of the best ways I know to do it.