Lately I’ve been fighting to stay focused on being grateful. Perhaps my approach is what could use some refinement. I, my friends, am a perfection junkie. Thus, if I do not spend the better part of each day in bliss, remarking on how wonderful everyone and everything in my life is, then I feel I have failed. The cycle continues, the next day, when I “try again”.
Perhaps it was being in the “gifted” class in elementary school that got me on this road of dissatisfaction. My teachers and their lessons were some of the most innovative, interesting, and creative that I’ve come across. Even in my 15 year education career, I never saw a better way to approach the learning process, and engage young minds. However, there was always one big drawback: The need to be the best leaves little room to be grateful with anything besides #1. While this seems to be a winning approach for the competitive, dog-eat-dog world that is the American education system, it is a losing life strategy. Why? Simply because no one is ever #1 at everything he or she does.
If Usain Bolt tried to be #1 at all sports, he most likely would never have scored gold in both the 2008 Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics. In fact, his mother even said that he was excellent in the game of cricket. But like most great athletes, Mr. Bolt had to choose a sport to stick to and excel at. Very few folks are Paul Robeson types, excelling at football, theater, law, acting, and even political activism, plus more. Mastery requires that much time be spent on ONE particular activity, not a little of this, and a dash of that.
So what does mastery have to do with gratitude, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Gratitude is the natural order of life when you are living in the flow of opportunity. Yet, if it was so “natural”, everyone would be doing it, and effortlessly at that. Gratitude actually requires us to work on noticing what is good in our lives. And this, my friends, is what separates the masters from the amateurs. The difference between an Olympic track star and someone who jogs for fun. I have nothing against casual joggers. But if there’s one thing I learned in the gifted class, being the top cat has its perks! Ready to practice being a Gratitude Master? Let’s see if we can’t make it to #1 in the world of gratitude, shall we? Here are three easy steps.
Step One: Pick up a Book
Anyone who has ever lived near or been friends with Caribbean people can tell you that reading is a daily recommendation. You’ve heard the familiar sound of a mother yelling at her child when he wants to go play, “Go tek a book and REEEEEAAAAADDD!” In the case of gratitude, the book is meant to be for writing. Pick up a plain notebook and decorate it with all of the fanfare that will encourage you to write in it, or just buy one that already has a cover that inspires you. Then, everyday, take 10 minutes to write down everything you are grateful for that day. Doing this as part of a prayer & meditation ritual makes it even more effective. For example, start by writing, then go into prayers to give thanks for all you are grateful for, then end in silent meditation, just being still with the All-That-Is.
Step Two: Say Thank You, With a Smile
How great does it feel when we are thanked, with a smile, for doing what we know there is to do? Everyone loves to be acknowledged, especially for doing the things that are not really “optional”. You know, like when your children pick up their toys because you told them to. Or when your spouse pays the rent on time. Yes, they are “supposed” to do these things because they “have to,” but what about if you thanked them anyway? It doesn’t cost anything to smile and say “thank you,” to the people who mean the most to us everyday. Oftentimes, we are dealing with past resentments and hurts that block our gratitude wells and cause us to withhold acknowledging and appreciating the little things. To win at the Olympics of gratitude, one must be willing to say thanks, with a smile, even when no one has done the same for us. Consider that you are paying it forward, as well as giving yourself a much deserved healing boost. Smiling is good for the one smiling, boosting endorphins and reducing stress hormone levels in the body. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2012/07/simply-smiling-can-actually-reduce-stress/
Step Three: Tell-A-Friend
We can all admit to telling our friends and/or family members about when someone has done something we didn’t like. This is almost second nature, and happens almost daily in many relationships. The same may not be true in the case of when someone does something we DO like. A simple way to become more grateful is to share what you are grateful for. This is not limited to what happened with other people, it could mean sharing how lovely the sunrise was that you saw when you had to wake up early for work the other morning. The point is, it is pretty darn hard to lack gratitude when you are genuinely sharing the things you are thankful for. The act of sharing with another human being causes the one sharing to relive the moment, and feel grateful all over again! The listener can also think of times in their own lives that they are grateful for, because gratitude breeds gratitude.
Gratitude is very good for our bodies. It facilitates a calm nervous system which means that our adrenal glands do not get the signal to produce epinephrine, as in the classic “fight-or-flight” response. Bemindful.org has this to say about the way this response impacts our stress hormones:
“The problem is that for many of us the fight-or-flight response rarely switches off, and stress hormones wash through the body almost continuously. The source of our stress is psychological rather than physical—a perception that something crucial to us is threatened. Fear of the unknown, major changes in our circumstances, uncertainty about the future, our negative attitudes—all these are sources of stress. Today we worry more about our jobs, our relationships or getting stuck in traffic than we do about fighting off a wild animal, but even though the perceived threat is psychological, it still triggers the archaic survival response.
The upshot is that our bodies are in a constant state of tension, ready to fight or flee, and this causes a host of physical problems. You can see what some of these are if you look again at what happens when adrenaline courses through the body: elevated blood pressure, rapid shallow breathing, high blood sugar and indigestion. What is more, adrenaline makes our platelets stickier, so our blood will clot quickly if we are wounded. This increases our chances of surviving a physical injury—but chronically sticky platelets are more apt to clot and create blockages in our arteries. And this sets the stage for a heart attack or a stroke.
The damage doesn’t end there. When we are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, the adrenal cortex begins to secrete cortisol, a steroid whose job it is to help us adapt to a prolonged emergency by ensuring that we have enough fuel. Cortisol acts on the liver and muscle tissues, causing them to synthesize sugars (glucose) and fats and release them into the bloodstream. From the body’s viewpoint, this is a reasonable response— dumping fat and sugar into the blood will help us survive a shipwreck, for example. But when this fuel is not metabolized in response to prolonged physical duress, disease results. Excess sugar in the bloodstream leads to diabetes, and excess fat to high cholesterol/high triglycerides. Both conditions boost our chances of developing heart disease.
The steroids cortisol and cortisone quell inflammation in autoimmune diseases and asthma, and so are useful when used infrequently and for brief periods, but their constant presence in the bloodstream suppresses immune function. This causes the white blood cells—those hardy defenders against bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, fungi, and other harmful microorganisms— to become sluggish. And this makes us more prone to disease, especially cancer and chronic infections like Lyme disease, hepatitis, and the Epstein-Barr virus.”
Click here to read the full article: http://www.bemindful.org/chaosorcalm.htm
It is not easy to break away from the barriers of ingratitude into gratitude, so don’t beat yourself up, and keep practicing everyday. I know I need to work on this area, so I will do so by setting a goal to do steps one through three, everyday for 30 days. Will you join me? Please leave a comment below to indicate you are a “yes” to this quest, and stop back often to post comments on how it is going.
Next blog post: Finding Your Oasis