5 ways to practice gratitude in your life when your world is turned upside down.
Gratitude has the power to change our lives. It can shift our trajectories, rekindle delight, grow love and increase joy.
Studies have shown that even simple moments of gratitude boost the chemicals in our body that bring rest and happiness and when harnessed, can heal communities, families and marriages. In Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are called to be thankful for all things. We all know that gratitude is incredibly powerful and yet for so many of us (including me) anxiety, depression and despair seem to be ever present. And I, for one, am tired of the idea of just working harder to have a grateful heart.
The world is deeply broken and heartache seems unhinged like a series of unending waves where we have just enough time to reach the surface and take a breath, but not enough time to swim ashore before the next one hits. This is the world we live in. And in truth, this has always been the state of affairs, we just did not have screens that reported the trauma and injustice of the earth we inhabit. We are inundated collectively and we are suffering personally. Trauma and heartache feel like they are around every corner. We are at the edge of our capacity and struggling to keep our heads above the surface.
So given that, how in the world would we possibly go about practicing gratitude without just giving ourselves over to a Pollyanna view of the world where we are doing nothing other than sticking our heads in the sand?
I think the only way to have true gratitude is if we are honest about the state of the world and our own hearts, while knowing that part of our calling is to slow down long enough to sink into the dirt of our lives and be captivated by the lavish goodness of God all around us while acknowledging our pain and burn out.
Gratitude is a natural consequence of being present to our lives and watching for the small moments of kindness that will take our breath away. Let’s look at 5 key elements that create the alchemy of gratitude:
Be Present to the Ordinary – so much of the goodness that surrounds us is seen in the mundane. The goodness we so deeply long for is between the lines and in the subtle contours of the human experience. It happens when you say yes to playing a card game for the 50th time with your 5 years old or putting together a lego set.
Today, maybe you find yourself sitting at the table with your kids as they complain about the dinner you have prepared while thinking about the mounds of laundry and dishes that are waiting for you. You are exhausted and even too tired to be sad. But this is where the seeds of gratitude begin to form. Because in that very moment you also notice the sweet expression on your childs face, or the way the trees look outside as the breeze creates an intoxicating russell. You remember how barren they are in winter and all of the sudden, you are caught by their devastatingly fleeting beauty. Your heart is open to the unremarkable and the ordinary and you find a moment of reprieve and remember why it is a gift to be human. Gratitude is found in the ordinary.
Be Willing to Give – to give is to join the very essence of the goodness of humanity, but if you do not believe that you have something good to offer, you will hold yourself back from giving that which the world actually needs. The world needs you, your neighbor needs you, and your friends need you. You are not wholly wise, or perfect but you are beautifully human. Each of us is made with a unique contribution and we need to be willing to believe that who we are, even in our flawed state, is needed and enough. And as you offer what you have, your heart will come alive and connected to the common good and our common humanity. To give is to activate gratitude.
Allow Yourself to Receive – the other piece of gratitude is our capacity to receive. If we are only giving but refusing care, we are undercutting the gift of being able to experience care we cannot give ourselves. Often receiving care can feel very risky for those of us who are used to protecting ourselves from the vulnerability of need. Receiving will feel risky, but will ultimately open your heart to connection and gratitude. The very essence of gratitude is the delight of something offered and received that you cannot give yourself.
Create Healthy Boundaries – Gratitude is almost impossible when you are overextended and not honoring the limits of your humanity and life. We are finite beings and need to be aware of what we are letting into our minds and bodies. We are porous and need to honor the fact that we are deeply impacted by the energy of the world around us. If you are over extended, you will grow resentful of what the world is requiring of you. But by acknowledging the edges of your capacity, you can create space to be present, give that which you have been gifted, and receive that which you need.
Live an Examined Life – This brings us to the crux of gratitude, which is a more profound knowledge of who you are and the truth of your story. Often our stories are filled with heartache, but when we settle into our bodies long enough to honor the ordinary, and give and receive care, and cultivate healthy boundaries, we can face the heartache and agony we need to heal from. Our instinct is to gloss over the trauma of our past and current realities and clutch onto false gratitude, but the world invites us into something much more sacred – a complex and rich life worth living.
Our world does not need blind optimism. It needs grounded, healthy, honest people who are willing to grieve, laugh, play and lean into the reality that the world is equal parts beauty and brokenness. But the most radical thing we can do is live authentic lives where the love of God can radiate from us even as we are in the throes of the reality of despair, heartache and pain.
Gratitude is an essence of love and being present to the small delights that are all around us which includes the beauty of deep grief and despair.
Cathy Loerzel received her MA in Counseling Psychology in 2007 is the Co-Founder of The Allender Center at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and co-author of Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Your True Calling. She has spent the last 15 years developing the theory and methodology of a popular new coaching and therapeutic approach called Story Work that moves people through their past stories of heartache to heal and discover healthier ways of being in the world.
She is a story work coach, popular speaker, writer and consultant based out of Seattle, WA where she lives with her husband, 2 little boys, 2 big dogs and 7 chickens on their urban farm. If you are interested in working with Cathy on your own story or bringing her to your community, you can follow her on Instagram @cathy.loerzel or you contact her here: https://www.cathyloerzel.com/coaching