I woke up, and jumped out of bed, ready to get dressed and tackle another day at work. Then, it hit me. I wasn’t going to work. I had lost my job. Tears began to well up in my eyes, and I plopped back down on the mattress. There was no reason to get up so early, I had nowhere to go, and all day to get there.
The idea of sleeping in on a week day was inviting. I did not have to get up, and rush, and grab my coffee and navigate traffic. What a nice break. Later, when I woke up and enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee, it hit me.
“Hey! There is some good in all of this!”
The circumstances were not ideal, but there were some benefits to this unscheduled break from the rat race. I just needed to remind myself of those benefits.
And in this way, gratitude helped me overcome the grieving that came from losing my job. I realized I no longer had to lead the department through an audit, and I no longer had to work with that demanding customer, or deal with a specific difficult employee.
As a driven workaholic, I thought losing my job was my biggest life challenge. And at that time, it was. That is not how life works and much bigger challenges were to come.
Later when I began to face the deaths of my family members. And when the two people I was closest to died within five days of one another, I was a mess. By this point, I had deepened my spiritual practice, and I fully understood the benefits of gratitude.
But seriously, what was there to appreciate? What were the benefits of having the two people you would turn to for help disappear within a week of one another? It came to me as people asked how I was doing, and I would reply, “I am as well-positioned as possible for such a difficult situation.”
It was true. I had a roof over my head. I had food on the table. I did have other people who cared about me. I had some degree of security and did not have to make big life-changing decisions. I lived by the beach, with a beach path perfect for contemplative walks. I had two crazy cats, who knew to stay close to me. I had a friend who brought me giant croissants. I had a friend who went with me to my mother’s out of state funeral. I had an uncle who called me every Sunday morning (before the Patriots game), to check on me.
And the more I looked for things to be grateful for, the more I found. Each day, I challenged myself to come up with three things for which I was grateful. Some days were more difficult than others. But it was possible to find three things every day. Even if some days I needed to repeat a list from a previous day.
Gratitude is not the only thing that will help you during difficult times. And it is not a silver bullet. I am not promising you that once you list your three things (or more), that your sadness will go away and never come back. You also need time to heal.
Gratitude is one of the herbs or medicines that you use to heal your wound. With a consistent gratitude practice, your wounds will heal in a more healthy way. Gratitude will increase your resiliency. And one day, you will find yourself feeling less sadness, and more joy.
That gives you one more thing to add to your gratitude list.