This year, I bought something called “Pak-Its” that go inside the lunch sacks for my two children. Each “Pak-It” contains four compartments; one for a sandwich, and three others for snacks, fruit, chips, etc. Each day, I try to surprise my kids with a variety of fruit and snacks. I love to see their smiling faces and hear them express so much gratitude from something as mundane and simple as what’s in a lunchbox!
Why is it as we get older, many of us have a hard time appreciating the simple things in life? Perhaps, it’s because life becomes more complicated. Or is it something else?
Years ago, I remember I was really struggling with appreciating my life. At the time, I was living in a constant state of fear and anxiety around money. My husband had been out of work for almost a year. If he didn’t find a job soon, we were going to lose our home. Typical to someone who is in financial straits, I found myself ruminating constantly on thoughts like…”Where will we move if we lose the house? Could we bring our dog to an apartment? Could we find an apartment in the same school district? What furniture would we keep?”
The subconscious mind will obsess on unwanted outcomes. The perception is that if we worry, we can somehow avoid the negative consequences we fear. Or in the very least be prepared for the worst.
Seeking a positive focus, I joined a women’s empowerment group that met weekly. I will never forget the first meeting with these funny, spiritual women. Starved for inspiration and light, their energy instantly uplifted me. The hostess introduced me and then led the group in a standard opening activity which was called, “Gratitudes.” This meant that each woman in the group was asked to share at least one thing for which she was grateful that took place in the previous week. In this way, each woman got to share a piece of her life as we simultaneously engaged in co-creating positive energy.
If you’ve ever been through a time in your life when you feel like you are in survival mode and everything is a struggle, you might relate when I say, that for the longest time, I had a hard time thinking of a “gratitude.” My mind was locked into a non-stop chatter of anxious driven dialogue like, “My husband is out work. We are struggling financially. We may lose our home. The kids are arguing. I’m exhausted. What will we do?” And on and on….
Over the course of several weeks, something inside must have shifted though. A new habit of looking for the good must have been fostering a new perspective because something out of the ordinary happened the night before Thanksgiving. I indulged a few dollars and went out with friends to a local restaurant to hear live music. The band was energetic and fun! The loud music was a welcome infusion of positive energy!
Later on that evening, I walked down the hall to the back of the building towards the restrooms. Out of the abrupt silence. I heard a single sentence inside my head, “What you fear most will set you free.” I stopped in my tracks. What did that mean? It was my voice….but the way that the sentence was phrased was not how I would normally speak. It reminded me of something Obi-wan Kenobe would say to a student to whom he teaches the ways of the Jedi.
I laughed and asked myself, “What was my worst fear at that moment?” Losing our home? Yes. Well, what if we lost our home? What’s the worst that would happen? So, we move into an apartment. So what! A rush of energy and relief flowed through me. Me, my husband, my children… we are all healthy! Suddenly, I felt light and a feeling of immense gratitude for our safety and health flowed through me. I felt a deep inner calm that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
That was a turning point in my soul. The point when I was able to see the glass half full in life despite life’s struggles.
I continued to participate in the women’s group weekly for many years. Over time, my “gratitudes” became more plentiful. The simple things in life like a comfortable bed and bird singing outside my window bring me joy. This continues to occur despite times when life has been extremely stressful for me. Like when a huge family inheritance was lost. And especially, when my best friend and godmother to my two children died of brain cancer.
Gratitude is a lifeboat that keeps your spirit afloat even in difficult times.
You can’t inflate your “lifeboat” all at once though. You must breathe life into it daily to keep it inflated and uplifting you. It’s okay to start small. Maybe it’s just gratitude for a soft pillow and indoor plumbing.
A friend of mine named Ben is a retired CFO of a major corporation. In his retirement, he has turned to studying Peruvian shamanism and now practices as a healer. Spending time with him is such a delight. He constantly whispers phrases of gratitude under his breath. I hear him say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” when he begins a healing. I hear him say it when things go well and when things don’t. He is one of the happiest people I know.
From my own life and those I’ve watched, I believe that what you focus on is what you attract. And if you concentrate on looking for experiences and people to appreciate, the more you will live in a state of appreciation and bliss. And when life challenges you, look for the little things to appreciate like lunchboxes to inflate your lifeboat.
May your blessings be plentiful this holiday season!
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