This has been a difficult year for so many people. The challenges we encountered were unexpected. In the face of the adversity we have an opportunity to pause and remember what is truly important, a practice that can often be overlooked when things are coasting along. A disruption to our normal can be an opportunity to remember those valuable parts of our lives.
While fighting an uphill battle it is possible to get caught in the doubt that things will ever get better. A person can become hopeless in the face of seemingly endless obstacles. How can we find a way to be thankful even when things seem to be at their worst? Finding the most basic part of your day to be appreciative of is a start. Like my patient “Herbie” said to me after being admitted to the hospital on his 100th birthday, “every day above ground is a good day!” The moment you open your eyes in the morning can be a prompt to be appreciative of the gift of being alive. Even if that practice seems trite there can be significant shifts in perception and the way you feel when engaging at the outset in a practice of gratitude,.
When driving a person tends to steer towards their line of focus. Like a moth to a flame. This is called “target fixation.” When we encounter troubles we tend to remain fixated on them, losing sight of the important people and things that are still all around us.There are so many objects that want to claim our attention, especially during this tumultuous time. Not least of which is the pandemic. Our Epic transition. Financial concerns. And so on.The key to dealing with the landslide of potential energy thieves is to focus on that which you can control. Find the talents in yourself that are valued, be appreciative that you have skills that can make your tiny slice of the world better, and engage your energy towards that which you can change.
Never before in my lifetime – not after the Challenger disaster, the AIDS pandemic, the dismantling of the Berlin wall during the Cold War, the War in Kuwait, or even during the 9/11 attacks and aftermath have I sensed so much uncertainty and fear. In the face of this monster I see those I work with and remember that it is our shared purpose to help ease the suffering of others. I find my work to be a blessing. It is my opportunity to bring something of value to those that stand with me and those we serve.
Gratitude is a state of mind. The polarity of this is feeling that you do not have enough. While we can easily recognize the folly of insatiable desire, it is not always apparent. One can find themself on the “rat wheel” of life, chasing the intangible, ignorant of valuables within reach. A pause at the start of the day and when overwhelmed to reflect on what is going well, what things bring happiness, and to nurture important relationships can make all the difference in times of stress. An improved state of appreciation has been shown to increase happiness.
Some accessible practices to improve gratitude:
- Keep a journal. Practice writing something you are grateful for with pencil and paper each night before you go to sleep.
- Meditate. Find space and time to return to yourself. The great stoic saying, “You have power over your mind – Not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius
- Keep a small stone or other trinket in your pocket to remind you to appreciate what is available to you throughout the day. Like a mantra that returns you to the present moment, something tactile can serve as a mental prompt. We all lose our way with the increasing demands of the day. Come back to gratitude frequently as a means of focusing yourself.
“Every moment is a new adventure” has been a mantra that returns me to the present moment and allows me to focus on what is available to me now. In each moment is something to look at with new eyes and find awe and appreciation.