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Finding Gratitude in an Uncertain World


On the way home from music class with my almost two year-old I passed a church on the side of the road. Like many, the church had a sign out front where they posted a weekly message. The phrase caught my eye and stayed in my mind like Baby Shark on repeat:


“God is still good. We’ve just stopped being grateful.”


Powerful words for a crazy busy Thursday morning. It would’ve been easy to think, “yeah, no kidding” and just move on. But a little voice deep inside me said to pay attention. As I went about my day, I continued to reflect on the bold declaration. It’s certainly easy these days to feel like God has abandoned us. If you watch or read the news, it’s one nightmare story after another. Covid. Monkeypox. War. Persecution. Famine. Global warming. They’re all true, and they make for great media ratings, but they’re not the whole truth.


Inside each of those sensational headlines there are dozens of tales of kindness, generosity, survival, and even miracles. But those things don’t make the public stop and pay attention. Death and disaster do. Like any other business, the media needs ratings to sell ads and support itself. So they push what sells. Chaos. Violence. Death. Your blood pressure goes up just reading the words.


But you don’t want to be ignorant either. You want to stay connected to your community, you want to know what’s going on around you, you actually care about what happens to others. It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole, pulled into the stress of the negativity around us. So how do you get off the merry-go-round? You find gratitude.


Gratitude is a popular concept in self-help circles these days. But what does it mean to be grateful and why does it matter? And how in the world do you start a gratitude practice that doesn’t feel cheesy?


According to Merriam Webster, being grateful is “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.” To use an extreme example, it’s the thing that differentiates the happy poor man in Thailand and the miserable rich man in Beverly Hills. Like when you asked for Air Jordans as a kid and your parents told you to just be grateful you had a roof over your head? Everyone thinks about gratitude in relation to money and personal possessions, but it’s so much bigger than that.


Being grateful isn’t about being glad you aren’t living in a shack in the middle of a war zone. One, that’s easy, and two, it doesn’t really translate into anything. Yes, that fits the definition of grateful, but it doesn’t really encompass what most of us would consider the genuine spirit of the word. True gratitude is about looking for the good in people - and celebrating it. It’s about seeing the blessings in your own life - and appreciating them. About looking for the silver lining - instead of focusing on the storm clouds.


So how do you make gratitude part of your life?


When beginning gratitude practice, the easiest way to start is by making a list of what you’re grateful for - things, people, events, and so on. Not a laundry list of the possessions you like. Again, this is about true gratitude, not some self-important inventory you can use to compare yourself to friends and neighbors. If you saved up and bought that dream Porsche, certainly put it on the list. But don’t include stuff just for the sake of stuff. We’re building a brand new house right now - I’m grateful for the opportunity to pick out cabinets and flooring that I like. I’m also grateful to have found a little house to rent until they’re done building ours.


I’m grateful for my growing writing career, for my best friend, for the ability to go for a run, and for a cup of hot coffee in the early morning silence. With two kids under five, silence is a rarity to be savored! What’s on your list???


So what do you do with that finished list? Don’t let it sit in a notebook in a drawer somewhere! Put it somewhere you’ll see it - on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, next to your bed. A friend of mine keeps his favorite items on an index card in his wallet. And keep adding to your list. Try to really sit down and read and reflect on it at least once a week and include new items.


A common misperception is that to be grateful, you have to be content with your life and never want anything more. FALSE! Being grateful isn’t about settling for something less than your dreams. If anything, you should be grateful that you HAVE big goals and dreams for your future. But you can still be grateful for the dull 9-to-5 job that allows you to feed your family while you’re working into the night to build your start-up business.


One of the goals of a gratitude practice is to help our brains focus on the good around us, instead of all the noise. Tony Robbins has this great exercise where he tells the crowd to look around and notice everything in the room that’s brown. Then he has them close their eyes and try to list everything red. And it’s ridiculously hard and everyone laughs. But he made his point - our brain sees and notices and remembers what we tell it to!


The practice of gratitude can also be so much more than a list. In fact, the more you incorporate it into your daily life, the more powerful it is. Whether you’re religious or not, you can give thanks before a meal. Just the simple act of being fully aware and present while eating can lead to weight loss. Make a photo collage of people and places and experiences you’re grateful for and hang it somewhere you will see it often. My friend goes around the dinner table and has each kid share one good thing that happened that day. There are so many possibilities!


There are proven health benefits of gratitude too! Studies have shown that gratitude leads to improved sleep, fewer aches and pains, and improved overall emotional health - it actually does make you happier! And unlike most medications, it doesn’t cost a lot of money or have a long list of unpleasant-sounding side effects. Gratitude is free and accessible to everyone. It will feel awkward at first, everything new does, but after just a few days, you can start to see a difference.


So clearly gratitude is something we all should have more of in our lives. Start your practice today and in no time you’ll be enjoying the benefits too!





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These pages are filled with blogs about things I'm passionate about - from archaeology to zen!  My goal is not to convert you to my idea of a "perfect lifestyle" but rather to help you identify and create your own.

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