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Friday, April 4, 2008

Steps to Happiness - Part 7 The How to's of an Attitude of Gratitude

To read the precious articles in this series please go to:

Are You a Puppet on Strings? - Taking Back Control of Your Life
Steps to Happiness – Part 2Steps to Happiness - Part 3 - Does this Stuff Really Work?
Steps to Happiness – Part 4 - Who is Master?
Steps to Happiness – Part 5 - Choose What Kind of Chicken You'll be before an Egg Hatches
Steps to Happiness - Part 6 - Happy People Don't Seek Happiness







A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.

- Cicero


This last article on Steps to Happiness has come to be my favorite although I didn't know it would at the time. This gratititude thing has presented itself to me over and over again and I soon came to see that as Cicero said it truly is the "parent of all virutes." The more this idea presents itself and the more I think about it the more I come to see that it is the foundation of all the other steps. Maybe it should have been first. But, then again maybe the other steps are necessary in order to be grateful.....I guess you could look at it both ways. Either way, I'm just being constantly reminded that I need improvement in this area of my life (and for that I'm grateful!).

As this idea kept presenting itself me I was refered to a book. After researching the book I can say that it will be my next purchase (soon) and one that I can recommend to my readers. It is called Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. I can't say it's a "new science," but it certainly looks like something we can all learn from. (Don't you love how in this world of blogging we can end a sentence with a preposition.:) I always wanted to do that. My English teachers would not be proud. :))

When we take on this new attititude (really, it's like a whole world view) and TRULY INTERNALIZE it, it changes how we see EVERYTHING and how we think and act and treat everyone including ourselves.

Well, enough babbling......


Gratitude....


Does it ever seem like you just don’t have anything? Do you often find yourself complaining about the things you don’t have? Are you not getting what you want out of relationships? These are serious issues for many people and it seems like a solution is nowhere in sight. So what can be done about it?

Developing and maintaining an attitude of gratitude is a must in order to find solutions to these problems and to lead a life of happiness. Without this attitude one will lead a miserable life at best, but with it the blessings abound. So the question arises, “If it is so important then what is it and how do I achieve it?” That’s the question I asked for a long time. Discovering the secret was life transforming.

I remember the first time that I encountered someone who had a true spirit of gratitude. I totally could not understand it. I remember thinking “I wish I could be like that.” – not realizing that I really could be. She had always been one of my favorite people, but it wasn’t until this day that I figured out why. Her husband was basically in a vegetable state and at the point of death and she said to me, “He may not live, much longer. I’m just thankful for the time we’ve had together.” I thought, “Wow, that is an amazing attitude!”

What is an attitude of gratitude?


Before we go any further, we need to recognize that attitude is a mindset; it’s a way of life, a constant way of being – of looking at things. It is something that we internalize. We define gratitude as being thankful. So we could define attitude of gratitude as a constant spirit or state of thankfulness.


So how do I develop this attitude?

First, and probably the most obvious recommendation, look around at all the people who have it worse than you do. There is always someone out there that is in worse shape than you are. If you’re not convinced then watch the news (although I try not to do that because it is so negative.) You will always find someone who is in a more troubling situation than you. It will put you in your place very fast.

Second, recognize that EVERY blessing you have is a gift from God – everything from, a roof over your head, to food to eat, to (hot) water to take a bath, to the people in your life, to the air that you breath, to life itself, to time. Not only is it a gift from God, it is a gift from God that you do not even deserve. This is not a “poor pitiful me, I’m not good enough for anything” attitude. It is exactly the opposite - recognizing how truly blessed you are and realizing that we are all sinful people that God chooses to bless anyway. He just blesses those people much more who live their lives for Him (I am not talking monetarily, although it can be included).

Truly happy people recognize that everything they have is not only a gift that they don’t deserve, but that it is a gift to be used for God’s glory. (This attitude changes how you treat everyone.) God really blesses these people. They also recognize that any of it could be taken away at any time and that is okay because they never really even deserved it in the first place.

When you view everything as a gift something almost magical happens. These things begin to transform into something beautiful. If we treat the people in our lives as a gift, then our relationships start to change and take on a whole new beautiful form.

Third, focus on what you DO have, not on what you do not have. There’s a secret. It goes like this: What you focus on expands. If you think about and focus on what you do not have you will just keep having nothing because nothing expanded is still nothing. If you focus on what you do have, you will be amazed at the blessings that come into your life. (Focusing on positive things always creates more positive thoughts. Focusing on negative things always creates more negative thoughts.)

Fourth, give of your abundance – your newly discovered blessings- cheerfully (even if it seems like very little). You always get back in direct proportion to what you give. If you give a little, you get a little back. If you give a lot you get a lot back.

Remember how we deal with life is always a choice. From experience, I can tell you it is well worth finally choosing gratitude.

Exercises:
  1. Make a list of all your blessings. Read the list at least twice a day.
  2. When you start to think about all the things you don’t have, just replace it with 3 things that you do have (and your mind will show you even more blessings that you do have.)
    Ex. If you only have $2 to you name. Think “Wow, I have $2, instead of thinking I ONLY have $2. Then think of two other blessings to go along with it. Remember someone out there has lost everything they owned in some tragic event. Even if you have lost everything you own, be thankful for life itself and the opportunities ahead of you instead of focusing on the problem itself.

4 comments:

Shilpan said...

Jennifer,

Another great post. When I was at Penn State, doing my masters in Mechanical Engineering, I had a room mate who was Jewish. I remember that everyday, he used to touch earth and pray looking at sky. When I asked him, his answer left profound impact on my life since then. He said that we, Jewish faith, believe humble enough to have another great day on this mother earth. What a great thinking.

I have not seen you on my blog lately. Please visit when you can.

P.S. I added your blog as Favourite on the Technoratti. Just for your info.

Thanks
Shilpan

Jennifer said...

Yes Shilpan, each day we get to wake up is a real blessing!

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Jennifer,

This reminds me of a time when things in our business were in a turmoil. Both my husband and I were stressed and weren't sure where to turn. We had no soon talked about a few options we had, when we turned on the TV and it was the day of the Oklahoma bombings. That sad news instantly made us realize our problems were small compared to what those families were going through.

Faith, prayer, and remembering to count our blessing got us through. We'll be forever grateful for the great lesson we were taught.

Another thing I learned from watching Oprah is to keep a "grateful journal". Each day record 10 things you're grateful for. At first is sounds difficult to come up with ten things each day, but it's amazing how by just looking around you find how blessed you really are.

Great post Jennifer. And... a great lesson in life.

Jennifer said...

Barbara,

Wow! that was a big reminder for your and your husband. That's great that it is a lesson you will never forget. Somehow those events put thing in perspective real fast.

There really is nothing like faith, hope and prayer!!

I love the suggestion of keeping a journal of 10 things you are grateful for each day! While I already try to be very mindful of my blessings, I know I would find so many more to be thankful for if I implemented this.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and perspective.