Gratitude and New Beginnings

Few things in life can bring up a sense of sadness and loss than endings.  Whether the ending involves the dissolution of a marriage, the termination of a job, a forced residential change or anything else, we are thrust into a state of disconnection and emptiness.

Part of this feeling is caused by the disruption of our normal routine, but the biggest part of it stems from our reliance on  the lost situation(s) as part of our identity.  We don’t know who we are without them, and we struggle to find a foothold in our lives again.

One way to make life transitions smoother and less disruptive is by using a gratitude focus.

Gratitude can help you remember that along with the darkness of every ending comes the dawn of a new beginning.  Gratitude can smooth the sharp edges of any painful experience and usher in a more gentle transition that contributes to your personal growth.  Finally, gratitude can help you shed the burden of unhealthy situations in order to clear a space for something better to arrive in your life.

Below are a few simple steps to help you turn any negative situation into one of healing and growth:

1)  Open a notebook or journal to a clean sheet of paper and write, "I grieve the loss of this situation because ___________."  Write the reasons why you feel sad about your loss, how you feel without it, and how you think it will affect your quality of life.

2)  Turn to a new sheet of paper and write, “I value these things that I received from the existence of this situation in my life: ____________.”  In this space, write all the good things that came from the situation you are now releasing. 

3)  Finally, turn to another clean sheet of paper and write, “The release of this situation from my life now provides an opening for __________.”  Think of how the release of the old situation has provided an opportunity for something better to come along.  For example, if your marriage has ended, one possibility is that you can now invite in a healthier relationship that will better fit the person you are becoming.  Likewise for the loss of a job, and so on.  Find some positive things that will eventually happen because you are releasing the old situations/people/experiences.

No matter how terrible a loss may seem at first glance, there are always hidden blessings within it – if you’re willing to look for them.

It’s important to understand that it may take time to see obvious benefits from your gratitude exercises.  Remember that there is a grief process involved when transitioning through life phases.  Allowing yourself to feel the sadness of your loss will help you move more quickly through the grief.  At the same time, giving more of your focus to the formation of something better can make the process seem less devastating.

Do these exercises as often as you feel necessary to help shift your mind-set from helplessness to optimism and healing.

One Day of Gratitude

Has adopting an attitude of gratitude been a challenge for you?  Do you start each day with the best of intentions and then find yourself losing focus as you encounter more and more negativity?

The problem stems from trying to change the habits of a lifetime in one fell swoop!

If you’ve spent a large portion of your life not focusing on gratitude, you can’t expect yourself to change your whole mind-set immediately.  (Most of us always try though, don’t we?)

But can you do it for one day?  Can you commit to adopting a grateful focus no matter what happens during the course of one single day?  You’d be surprised how easy it is to do something for one day.

Here’s how to start:

First, select a trigger object to keep with you on the day of your gratitude experiment.  It can be a special piece of jewelry, a rubber band around your wrist, a special baseball cap, your lucky shirt, or anything else you feel would help you remember.

On the morning of your "one day of gratitude", spend a few moments holding your reminder object.  Bring up a feeling of gratitude in your heart while you do.  When you are fully immersed in the emotion of gratitude, recite an intention something like this:

"Today I choose to feel grateful for every experience I have.  I will find a positive focus for every challenge I face, every moment of frustration, and every person I meet.  I will make a conscious effort to stay rooted in the present moment so I am aware of the temptation to slip from this grateful focus and I can bring my thoughts and emotions back on track immediately.  This (object) will serve as a powerful reminder that I can choose to be grateful about anything and everything today, and I will exercise this freedom of choice during my one day of gratitude."

Put on your trigger object, and then go about your day.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that your day will be smooth sailing just because you performed your little gratitude ceremony!  (You didn’t really think it was going to be THAT easy, did you?)  Anything is possible of course, but it’s more likely that you’ll find your patience and focus being tested repeatedly throughout the day.

Believe it or not, that’s a good thing!  The more opportunities you are given to choose and strengthen your focus, the better you’ll get at developing a true attitude of gratitude.  Go with it.  If you find yourself getting mired in anger or frustration, simply return your focus back to gratitude again.  Make it your mission to find something positive about every situation and keep working on turning your thoughts around as often as necessary.

By the end of the day you should be feeling very proud of yourself!  Even if you didn’t manage to keep a steady focus on gratitude, you were probably able to focus on it more than you have in the past.

Now, lather, rinse and repeat!  Keep doing this exercise one day at a time, over and over again.  Before long you will find that you don’t have to work so hard at staying focused on gratitude, and it starts becoming more natural.

As author Annie Dillard once said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Start with one day, and everything can change.

Improve Your Attitude With Gratitude

Few things can affect your overall quality of life as powerfully as your attitude can.  Your attitude affects your career, your relationships, your hobbies, and even your financial status.  Most people discover that when they improve their attitude, everything else in their lives seems to improve also.

A daily practice of gratitude is one simple way to give yourself a painless attitude adjustment because it reduces your temptation to focus on more "negative" mind-sets.  When you feel grateful it is nearly impossible to feel frustrated, sad, empty, or disconnected.  A negative focus and a gratitude focus cannot co-exist!  They are opposites and will repel each other.

Here are a few suggestions for using gratitude to improve your attitude:

1)  Use gratitude to blot out unproductive feelings.  Sometimes we just get into a "funk" without knowing why.  We wake up one morning and realize that we’ve lost our zest for life and a numb disinterest has taken its place.  To turn this around, find something to be grateful for.  Just one tiny thing is enough!  Begin focusing on this thing as often as you can during the day, but most especially when that feeling of boredom or disinterest comes over you.  Let a feeling of strong gratitude flood through your body, and you will shift to a more positive attitude almost immediately.

2)  Begin expressing gratitude for the people around you each day.  Is your co-worker getting on your nerves?  Find one thing about her you can be grateful for, and focus all of your attention on that when you start to feel annoyed.  Remind yourself that everyone has both positive and negative personality traits – and you will encourage more displays of whatever you focus on!  Focus on the positive traits of the people you encounter daily and watch as it transforms your interactions into mutually beneficial connections.

3)  Become an optimist with the help of gratitude.  Do you find yourself in the habit of always expecting the worst?  When you become aware that you have shifted into a pessimistic mind-set, consciously choose to shift into grateful optimism.  For example, if you catch yourself saying something like this, "My boss doesn’t appreciate anything I do so I probably won’t get a raise this year" – stop and turn that thought into something like this:  "I always do my absolute best for the company, and my commitment to excellence will reap great rewards.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity to shine every day."

The results you get from these exercises may not be too obvious at first, but as you keep up with them you should begin to see a big difference in your attitude.  You’ll find yourself feeling lighter, happier, and automatically finding things to be grateful about all the time. 

The Reflective Nature of Gratitude

Have you ever heard that the people and situations in our lives mirror back what we project out?  You can probably remember plenty of times when this seemed to be so.

For example, perhaps you awoke one morning in a grumpy mood – and then proceeded to encounter one grumpy person after another during the rest of the day.  Or you felt overwhelmed with problems – and seemed to attract dozens more problems, both minor and major.

This type of "instant attraction" can be unsettling to say the least!  However, just as it can work in a negative fashion, you can also learn how to turn this mirror effect to your advantage through the practice of gratitude.

Try this little experiment for starters:

When you wake up in the morning, spend a few minutes reciting an affirmation like this:  "I am so grateful for the kind and generous people in my life!  Everyone is so supportive and nurturing and I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many great people."

Really allow yourself to get into the feelings of gratitude for the great people in your life.  Stay with these feelings for several minutes, letting them soak into your mind and heart. 

Then, as you go about your daily routine, imagine flowing a strong feeling of love and gratitude toward everyone you encounter.  You can do this with both people you know and strangers.  Find something appreciative to say to the people you know.  You might compliment your co-worker on her problem-solving skills, or tell your friend you enjoy his sense of humor.  Make it a genuine compliment without expecting anything in return.

As you focus on this little experiment, you may be surprised to notice that other people act more kindly toward you also.  You might receive spontaneous compliments, offers of assistance when you need it most, or any number of other pleasant surprises.

Here’s another experiment:

Do your best to find something positive about every situation and experience you have during the course of a day.  This might be challenging if you are used to looking at the negative side of most situations, but keep working at it until you can think of at least one blessing in every situation.

Don’t try to fake it!  If your car blows a tire on the freeway, you can’t mutter through gritted teeth, "I’m really grateful for this" over and over and expect good things to come from it.  You’re really NOT grateful at that moment (few of us would be). 

Instead, find an aspect of the situation that you really CAN be grateful about.  For example, you might decide to feel grateful that your blown tire didn’t cause a serious accident.  You might feel grateful that you happened to be in the slow travel lane instead of the fast lane when the tire failed. 

Whatever angle you choose to focus on, be sure your feelings of gratitude are genuine – and watch how that quality is reflected back into your life in a myriad of ways.

Gratitude and Life Purpose

A lot can be said for an attitude of gratitude, but did you know it can also help you clarify your life purpose?

If you rarely make the effort to feel grateful, you are probably familiar with a pervasive sense of boredom, frustration, dissatisfaction and emptiness.  Even if your life circumstances are bearable for the most part, you might still feel a bit disconnected and aimless on a regular basis.

A shift toward a more appreciative mind-set can trigger incredible changes in your life – one of which is inspiring you to move toward the activities that speak most deeply to your spirit.  In other words, your life purpose!

Here’s why:

1)  Gratitude reconnects you with your authentic self.  Whether you call it your soul, your spirit, your essence, or your authentic self, this is the part of you that experiences your life on the deepest level.  It is not only who you are, but who you were meant to be.  It is the part of you that is most pure and abundant, and from which the rest of your life springs.  Your authentic self is the part of you that is naturally joyful, lighthearted, loving, compassionate, generous . . . and yes, grateful.  As you focus more and more on gratitude (as well as joy, passion and love!), you automatically shift into this part of yourself.  You feel happier and more loving – and express these emotions freely and easily. 

Most importantly, your authentic self already knows what your life purpose is!  Whether you believe you have a predestined purpose or you can choose your purpose – the deepest part of you understands the activities that make you most happy.  The more you can connect with this part of yourself, you will feel inspired to move naturally toward those activities. 

2)  Gratitude helps awaken you to limitless possibilities.  The deepest part of you also knows that for every desire born within you, a corresponding possibility exists.  Perhaps you know what you would like your life purpose to be, but your skeptical mind won’t allow you to go for it.  You make excuses about how hard it would be, how you have too many demands on your time, how you don’t have the talent or experience required to do what you really want to do – but gratitude can change all this.  The more time you spend being grateful, the more positive you feel and the more easily you can believe in the seemingly impossible.  A grateful mind-set convinces you that even if you can’t see a clear path to your dreams, a path must surely exist and will make itself known at the right time.

3)  Gratitude helps you honor the best parts of yourself and everyone else.  The more you can build yourself and others up, the more you will find yourself fulfilling a powerful purpose in life.  It has been said that our life purpose has nothing to do with us personally, but with all of the lives we touch through the fulfillment of it.  That’s powerful!  If you focus on expressing gratitude for everyone you encounter, you help them to become better people.  You build them up, encourage and support them.  Likewise when you express gratitude for yourself.

When you are fully connected to a sense of reverence and gratitude for your life experiences, you cannot help but attract ever greater levels of meaning and purpose in everything you do.  Your very focus on the goodness of life triggers a flow of abundance and clarity that can illuminate even the darkest path.

Gratitude and Challenges

Is it possible to feel grateful for the challenges you face on a daily basis?  Yes, if you get into the habit of recognizing the benefits the challenges offer to you!  What benefits, you ask?

We tend to think of challenges as big mountains that stand between us and our goals.  That seems like a bad thing at first glance.  But ask any mountain climber what benefits they gain from conquering such rough terrain and they would probably talk your ear off about overcoming fears, sharpening focus, physical strength and building character.  Mountains don’t seem like such a bad thing to them.

What lessons can we learn from these brave souls?

One of the most powerful lessons that comes to mind is the ability to switch perspective.  Rather than seeing a mountain as an impossible obstacle, these people see a mountain as a welcome test of their strength and endurance.  They see it as an opportunity to thrill and inspire themselves, stretch their limits and push themselves to greater levels of achievement and self-mastery.

Are you beginning to see how this same mind-set can be used in your own goal achievement?

Whether your mountains are literal or figurative, stop seeing them as dead-ends.  Stop letting them intimidate you and instead let them fuel your determination to succeed anyway.  When you stand at the foot of a mountain and gaze up toward the peak hidden in the clouds, don’t focus on the difficult climb ahead but on the benefits you stand to gain in the process.

Ask yourself these questions:

What can this challenge teach me about myself?

What parts of myself can this challenge help me develop?

What natural skills and abilities can I use to help me through this challenge?

What will I gain by working through this challenge?

And then, most importantly – be GRATEFUL for the OPPORTUNITY!  A challenge can only intimidate you if you let it.  It can only stop you in your tracks if you sit down and stop climbing.

If you instead learn to see your mountains as a welcome opportunity to stretch and grow beyond where you are now, you will never encounter a mountain that can’t be climbed.  You will develop your own system for mental and physical preparation, and you will come to enjoy the thrill of the challenge. 

Let gratitude become your climbing partner.  The more grateful you are for the experiences that strengthen you, the more worthwhile the journey will seem when you finally stand at the top of that mountain.

Counting Your Blessings

You may have heard the phrase, "count your blessings" before, but how often do you actually do it?  Do you pause to feel grateful when something good happens?  How about when you need an emotional boost?  Counting your blessings is one sure way to develop a constant mind-set of gratitude, which can turn a mundane life into a miraculous life.

You may have tried keeping a "gratitude journal" by recording the things you are grateful for each evening before bed, and that is one effective method, but there are other ways of focusing on gratitude if that didn’t work well for you.

Below are three more simple ways to count your blessings every day:

1)  Journal your blessings all through the day.  Rather than saving your gratitude journal activities for bedtime only, why not make them an ongoing activity all day long?  Keep a small notebook and pencil in your pocket and write a quick note every time something positive happens.  Your entries don’t have to take up a lot of time.  For example, you could write things like, "A clerk offered to assist me at the hardware store" or "Janet admired my blouse" or "I got a free bagel with my coffee this morning."  Little things matter!  The more you focus on them, the more you’ll begin to feel grateful about the bigger things too.

2)  Just like you can journal your positive experiences, you can make it your mission to find something positive about difficult situations.  Using the same little notebook, every time you encounter a challenge or seemingly negative situation, find one positive thing you can say about it and write it down.  For example, if your boss seems to be in a bad mood, you could write, "My boss doesn’t determine my emotional state; I do.  I choose to feel happy and grateful for this freedom."  Or if you encounter obstacles while working on a project or goal, you could write, "I relish the opportunity to put more effort into this project because it will contribute to a better end result."

3)  Finally, you could literally count your blessings.  Rather than recording the specifics, simply make a mark in your notebook every time you experience something to feel grateful about.  At the end of the day, glance over your page of marks.  How many are there?  Make a note of the number and then try to beat it each day afterwards.  There are literally thousands of possible things to be grateful about in the course of a single day; you just have to be willing to see them

The more time you spend emphasizing your blessings, the more you’ll find yourself feeling genuinely grateful for every day of your life.