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How to Find Gratitude When Everything Goes Wrong

Angel and I recently interviewed a minimum wage motel housekeeper in Miami for a project we’re working on to support our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.  “Do you like your job?” we asked her.  To our surprise, she smiled from ear to ear and was breathless for a couple moments.  She finally collected herself and said, “I can’t believe how much I love my job!  I get to make dozens of our guests happy every day and feed my two beautiful children at the same time…”

Then, at that same motel 30 minutes later, we met a family of six in the lobby.  They were just hanging out, sharing stories, laughing and taking turns reading excerpts from a book.  Their joyous presence caught our attention, so we asked them where they were from.  “Oh, we’re from here,” the father said.  “Our house burned down last night, but miraculously all of us got out safely.  And that makes this a pretty darn good day.”

Talk about two back-to-back wake-up calls…

There is always, always, always something to be grateful for!

In Getting Back to Happy, I share this entry from my grandmother’s journal, dated 9-16-1977:  “Today I’m sitting in my hospital bed waiting to have both my breasts removed.  But in a strange way, I feel like the lucky one.  Until now I have had no health problems.  I’m a sixty-nine-year-old woman in the last room at the end of the hall before the pediatric division of the hospital begins.  Over the past few hours I have watched dozens of cancer patients being wheeled by in wheelchairs and rolling beds.  None of these patients could be a day older than seventeen.”

That journal entry has been hanging up in our home office for the past two decades, and it continues to remind Angel and I to practice gratitude through thick and thin.  No matter how good or bad we have it on any particular day, we do our best to wake up grateful for our lives, because other people in other places are desperately fighting for theirs.

Think about your own life in this context of gratitude.

How often do you let go of what you think your life is supposed to look like, and sincerely appreciate it for everything it is?

If you’re anything like the rest of us, it’s probably not often enough.

Because finding sincere gratitude is much easier said than done in the hustle of life, especially when hard times hit.  And although Angel and I have coped and grown through our fair share of truly hard times (which I will touch upon at the end of this post), let’s be honest about something: 98 percent of the time we create tragedy in our lives out of fairly minor incidents.  Something doesn’t go exactly as planned, but rather than learn from the experience, we freak out about it and let stress become us.  Or, we resist the small bits of progress we can make, simply because we can’t achieve exactly what we want all at once.

Our challenge for you today is to start choosing differently—don’t let the things that are beyond your control dominate you!

The biggest difference between peace and stress on an average day is attitude.  It’s all about how you look at a situation and what you decide to do with it.  It’s remembering that there are no certainties in life; we don’t know exactly what the future will bring.  So, your best strategy for living is to make the best and most positive use of the present moment, even when it’s far from perfect…

Especially when it’s far from perfect!

Your life, with all its ups and downs, unexpected twists and turns, has brought you to this moment.  It took each and every intricate, confusing, and painful situation you have encountered to bring you to right here, right now.  And if you have the courage to admit that you’re a little scared, and have the ability to smile even as you cry, the nerve to ask for help when you need it, and the wisdom to take it when it’s offered, then you have everything you need.  You just have to believe it so you can take the next step.

Angel and I have guided hundreds of our course students and Think Better, Live Better conference attendees through this process of perspective change—a process stepping forward with sincere gratitude, no matter what.  And that’s what I want to highlight for you today.  We’re going to take a quick look at some ways to find sincere gratitude when there’s nothing obvious to be grateful for… when everything seems to be going wrong.

We usually think of times like these as something we don’t like—dealing with a difficult person or circumstance, struggling with a difficult life change, losing a loved one, etc.  And it’s true, these are not “good times.”  I’m not suggesting we should rejoice at living though disappointing or painful life experiences.  But there are ways we can find gratitude as we grow through them, nonetheless.  Here are some solid examples of how to do just that:

How to Find Gratitude Around Difficult People

We expect people to behave a certain way.  Specifically, we expect them to always treat us kindly, fairly and respectfully.  But the reality is some people won’t.  They will lose their tempers or act foolishly, regardless of how we treat them.  This must be accepted.

Don’t lower your standards, but do remind yourself that removing your expectations of others—especially those who are being difficult—is the best way to avoid being disappointed by them.  You will end up sadly disappointed if you expect others will always do for you as you do for them.  Not everyone has the same heart as you.  Not everyone’s heart is filled with genuine gratitude.

When you’re forced to deal with a difficult person, you can be grateful for having other people in your life who are far less difficult.  You can be grateful for having a way to practice being better at patience, communication, and tempering your expectations.  You can think of this person as a teacher, who is inadvertently helping you to grow stronger as a person.  And, at the very least, you can be grateful for them because they serve as a great reminder of how not to be.

How to Find Gratitude When You Catch Yourself Complaining

Many of us are have developed a subtle habit of complaining about life.  We might not even notice how often we’re doing it, but every time we experience some tension in our lives (things not going exactly our way), we immediately feel bitterness.  This bitterness is a form of complaining, and it’s a common way we waste our lives.

Gratitude is the antidote.  Each time you notice yourself feeling bitter, or complaining, notice that you have a story in your mind that’s causing you to feel the way you do.  Notice that you’re letting this story about “how life should be” dominate you.  Then, find a small way to be grateful instead:

  • What could you be grateful for right now, if you really wanted to be grateful?
  • What could you appreciate about this moment?

Seriously, when life gives you every reason to be negative, think of one good reason to be positive.  Remember, there’s ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

How to Find Gratitude When You Are Overwhelmed

The familiar faces, places, situations and obligations we rely on and interact with daily… they overwhelm us sometimes, especially when we’re taking them for granted.

Have you ever noticed how the more familiar you become with an amazing situation or relationship in your life, the more you seem to take it for granted?  And then, as it becomes more “expendable” in your subconscious mind, the more it seems to “overwhelm” you on busy days?  You somehow grow to feel like this amazing thing is getting in your way, even though it isn’t—it’s YOU that’s getting in your way.

The bottom line is that we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.  So, challenge yourself to flip your perspective in moments of overwhelm, using a simple re-framing tool we often cover with our course students called “… AND I LOVE IT!”

“… AND I LOVE IT!” is a phrase that can be applied to the end of any overwhelming thought.  Here are a couple examples:

  • I need to go grocery shopping, and pay the bills, and pick the kids up from school in an hour … AND I LOVE IT!
  • My inbox is filled with two dozen client emails that need a response today … AND I LOVE IT!

Let this little re-framing tool give you the perspective you need.  Because, again, the everyday things that overwhelm us are often blessings in disguise.

OK, now for some harder stuff…

How to Find Gratitude After Job Loss

No one wins at chess by only moving forward; sometimes you have to move backward to put yourself in a position to win.  And that’s a good metaphor for your life’s work, too.

As painful as losing your job is, it’s an ending that leads to the beginning of everything that comes next.  Let the heaviness of being successful be replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.  This new beginning is the start of a different story, the opportunity to refresh your life, to reinvent who you are.  See the beauty in this opportunity—the freedom and liberation from a fixed routine—a solid foundation from which you can rebuild certain aspects of your life the way you always wanted it to be.

Remind yourself, as often as necessary, that you can find gratitude for where you are.  You can find gratitude for these moments of reinvention—for pushing into the discomfort of getting good at interviewing, learning new skills and leveling up.  You can find gratitude for the opportunity to grow stronger, even in the midst of the growing pains that ultimately get you there.

How to Find Gratitude Amidst Health Problems

Everyone is down on the pain inflicted by health problems, and when we experience this kind of pain we usually say we have nothing to be grateful for, because we forget something important about what we’re going through: The pain of a health problem is for the living ONLY—for those of us who still have the chance of a lifetime.

A couple short years ago, on the second to last day of her life, a close friend of mine told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she had in the last two years of her life, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  ‘I’ve accomplished so much recently, and truly appreciated every step,” she said.  “If I had only known, I would have started sooner.’”

Her words made me cry and smile at the same time.  What was truly miraculous was seeing the genuine gratitude in her eyes at that moment.  She was sincerely grateful for actually being able to accomplish everything she had accomplished in her final two years.  And her sentiment has always remained with me.  So, while I agree that health problems are never fun, and can often be very painful and debilitating, the pain can still be mediated by a sense of gratitude of being alive.  Of still having a chance to move forward.  Of still having a life worth living, from moment to precious moment.

How to Find Gratitude When Someone You Love Dies

One of the absolute hardest realities to cope with is death.  A person who gave meaning to our life is now no longer in our life (at least not in the flesh), and we are not the same person without them.  We have to change who we are—we are now a best friend who sits alone, a widow instead of a wife, a dad without a daughter, or a next-door neighbor to someone new.  We want life to be the way it was, before death, and yet it never will be.

But, can we still be grateful we had the gift of this person in our lives?  Yes…

Angel and I have dealt with the loss of siblings and best friends to illness and suicide, so we know from experience that when you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open.  And the bad news is you never completely get over the loss—you will never forget them.  However, in a backwards way, we gradually learned that this is also the good news.

Ultimately, we grew to appreciate that although death is an ending, it is also a necessary part of living.  And even though endings like these often seem ugly, they are necessary for beauty too—otherwise it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited.  Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the ultimate limit—a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life.  Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of any wonderful life situation, is a moment of reinvention.  Although deeply sad, their passing forces us to gradually reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places.  And finally, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.

© 2006-2018 Marc and Angel Hack Life


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