How You Can Be Thankful Through Life's Disappointments
As strange as it might seem, knowing how to be thankful is a challenge for most Americans.
We are constantly bombarded with messages that remind us of all that we lack and the ways we fall short.
These messages are lies. Like the money used to grant sub-prime mortgages to pay for dream homes, the idea that you need a car or a house or a true love or a certain look in order to be happy is an illusion.
But this made-up notion burrows its way into our minds and tricks us into believing that if we don't have the newest toys, a fairytale romance, or a Photoshopped body, we have nothing to be thankful for.
In order to develop and maintain thankful attitude, we need to train our minds to dismiss these messages. Becoming thankful requires a focus on the good in life and in others. Gratitude, compassion, and living in the present moment are necessary elements of a thankful heart.
Developing a habit of keeping grateful thoughts doesn't happen overnight. In fact, for most it is a lifelong process. Be patient with yourself and thankful for life's lessons. Each challenge (even one that is in the form of a person!) becomes a teacher.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. --John Milton
In order to build an attitude of gratitude, reflect on your day and write down three things for which you are grateful. Research shows that making an effort to be grateful daily improves your sense of well-being.
In other words, knowing how to be thankful is an exercise that improves your life. The act of bringing thoughts of thankfulness to the front of your mind and writing them down reveals life's joys that tend to be overlooked. It trains your mind to be happy, whatever the circumstances. But like anything worth doing, it requires practice and a bit of self-discipline.
Do you find yourself staring at a blank piece of paper? There is no happy event too small to include. I have been keeping a gratitude journal for months that includes "minor" happenings like "a smile from a stranger", "a tasty dinner", and "nice weather for a bike ride". Some days are more challenging than others. For those, be sure to include, "tomorrow is a new day"!
Gratitude Takes Practice
Turn off the TV
"Envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own." --Harold Coffin
Spending your time celebrity-watching puts your attention on the things that you feel you are lacking. Movies and television project a fantasy world where people make all kinds of money while enjoying busy social lives with family problems that always seem to work out in the end.
This is all a hallucination, but it tricks the mind into believing that you're missing out. And in this land of make-believe, constant marketing messages lead you to feel even more left out of the loop.
But the truth is, money can't buy happiness or feelings of gratitude. A gorgeous face and perfect body doesn't make a happy heart. If they did, Hollywood would be filled with the most joyful people on earth. We know that's not the case.
Don't Compare Yourself to Others
“Happiness comes from within. It is not dependent on external things or on other people. You become vulnerable and can be easily hurt when your feelings of security and happiness depend on the behavior and actions of other people. Never give your power to anyone else.” --Brian L. Weiss
Like losing yourself in the fantasy world of movies and television, looking around at what others seem to have can make you feel as though your life is lacking or meaningless. Focusing on those who have--or seem to have--a fulfilling job, the "perfect" body, an ideal relationship, and buckets of money makes it impossible to be thankful.
Everyone struggles in one way or another. Some people are addicted to plastic surgery and never become satisfied with their looks. Many who finally win the lottery find that the money they so desperately coveted made their lives worse. "Ideal" relationships fall apart every day. What looks like an enviable life on the outside is crumbling apart on the inside.
In other words, whether they're visible or not, everybody has problems.
Instead of looking at others and dwelling on what you're missing, take a look at what you do have. Instead of jumping out of bed to start your day, spend a few moments thinking about all of the good things you have in your life. Is there a roof over your head? Do you have food in the fridge? The list goes on and on. It sounds like a cliché, but focusing on the positive actually trains the mind to be thankful.
Matthieu Ricard on Making Happiness a Habit
Strengthen Your Compassion Muscle
All the suffering in the world comes from seeking pleasure for oneself. All the happiness in the world comes from seeking pleasure for others." --Shantideva
Compassion kindles thankfulness. Everyone struggles with some level of self-pity now and then. Life is hard! Suffering strikes every human being on earth. When life's distresses become overwhelming, remember that you're not alone: there are some who struggle with the same issues, and others who suffer even greater pain.
This isn't an exercise to make you feel guilty when you're sad--that just perpetuates more self-pity, taking you down the road to deep depression. Making yourself consciously aware that others suffer helps take your focus off of yourself and place it on others.
Don't lose patience. It's a scientifically proven fact that the conscious generation of compassion takes time. This was tested using MRIs that measured activity in compassion centers of the brain. Researchers found that Buddhist monks, who meditate regularly and focus on feelings of compassion for others, have highly active areas of the brain where compassion functions compared to others who were not seasoned meditators.
Cut the Worry Habit
If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?" --Shantideva
Worrying about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future sucks all of the joy out of the present. When you worry, it feels as if the thoughts that go on in your mind are reality. This is another illusion that keeps us from truly understanding how to be thankful in life.
Mark Twain said it best: "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened". How many times do we worry over future events that never even occur?
When you feel the worry cloud growing over your head, stop and concentrate on your breath. Bring yourself into the present moment and think: "How is worry going to solve my problem?"
Change Your Mind and Be Thankful
It's tempting to believe that thankfulness should come naturally, but it actually requires some self-discipline and effort. Everyone suffers in one way or another, and daily struggles can distract you from the positive aspects of life. But consciously switching your focus from difficulties to advantages helps to develop greater joy and appreciation for the little things, and that is something to be thankful for!
You Might Also Find This Interesting . . .
- How to Be Happy Using Mindfulness Meditation
Do you ever feel controlled by your emotions? Do you wish you had more compassion and self-restraint? Some of us are better in these areas than others, but there's always room for a little self-improvement.
- 6 Ways to Relieve Stress Without Changing Your Schedule
Stress management is vital in order to be healthy, both mentally and physically.
- Depression, Diet, and Digestion: How the Gut-Brain Connection Impacts Your Mood
Did you know that the condition of your digestive system has a tremendous impact on your emotional state? Diminished gut flora, food sensitivities, and diets lacking in vital nutrients can all be root causes of depression and other mood disorders.
© Liz Davis 2012 How to be Thankful