Gratitude. We all know it’s important, but many of us don’t consciously incorporate it into our daily lives. It’s not something that comes easily. We can’t simply decide we’re going to start being more grateful. It’s something we need to practice every single day. But it’s worth it. Being able to see the world through a lens of gratitude changes things, it changes everything.
Gratitude. It’s something I’ve been aspiring to cultivate for quite a while now. I genuinely believe the way we see and perceive the world entirely changes our experiences of it. So I’ve been doing my best to be grateful for… everything, or at least pieces of everything.
The other day, I was driving behind someone going 40 km/hr in a 60 zone. We’ve all been there. It was pouring rain and I know my tires don’t have the best grip on wet days, but regardless, I was in a rush to get somewhere and was feeling antsy behind this slow driver. We were approaching an intersection and the light turned yellow. The car in front of me drove through the intersection, but I decided at the last minute to stop. I pressed down on the brakes aggressively and my wheels hit a slick patch on the road. My tires ended up skidding and by the time I had come to a stop, the nose of my car was well into the intersection. Thank goodness I was going slow, I thought to myself, as traffic started criss-crossing in front of me. In situations like this, it becomes so easy for us to turn a complaint into a moment of gratitude.
But why can’t we do that all the time?
A couple weeks ago, at a yoga class, we were lying on our backs in the final resting pose of the practice, Savasana, when someone started snoring, loudly. At the time, I felt frustrated that it was causing me to be so distracted and unable to focus on my breathing and relaxation. Yesterday, I went to yoga again, and guess who was back – the snorer. This time, however, I chose to flip my perception of the situation to one of gratitude instead. I thought, Wow, I’m so grateful that I’m in a room filled with such accepting people that no one is commenting, snickering, or remarking on this. I’m so grateful that this environment is so non-judging and safe that it is okay for someone to fall asleep and start snoring in a relatively public place. And suddenly, I was able to let the snoring go, and just be at peace in that dark room. I no longer felt the presence of that individual, instead, I felt the presence of community.
A little while back I was at an event where someone asked a fairly obnoxious question of the presenter. They were clearly supportive of the issues being discussed, but their question seemed ignorant and over the top. I felt embarrassed. The person I was sitting next to rolled their eyes and let out an audible sigh. But then something clicked in my mind and I thought at least they’re here. Maybe that individual wasn’t contributing in a really meaningful way, maybe they were asking ignorant questions and making irrelevant statements, but they were showing up. They were in the room. They were learning. They were present. They were being supportive in the only way that they knew how. Suddenly, I felt appreciation rather than agitation for this person. It’s amazing what a shift in perception can do.
I’ve always wanted to stop complaining, but I’ve always found it difficult because so much of what we think and say is made up of complaints. But what if instead of just stopping complaining, we flipped those complaints into moments of gratitude.
This mountain is so steep, my legs are sore can become I’m so glad my legs are strong enough to get me up such a big climb.
I don’t like this song turns into I’m so grateful that this song is making my friend so happy.
It drives me crazy when she doesn’t pull her weight in this project can transform into I’m grateful for everything she has contributed.
This morning, I was at a service at the Unitarian church that I’ve been dabbling in for the past few weeks and the minister said something that I really loved. She spoke about the fact that so often we’ll be in a situation in which we are not content or feel unsatisfied with something going on. Whether we hate the way the food tastes, dislike the paint colour of the room, or are agitated by something someone has said, we almost always find something to complain about. But chances are, there is someone else that is feeling so overjoyed about whatever it is we are dissatisfied with. You might hate a song playing on the radio and be inclined to switch it off, but take a moment and consider that your friend might be glowing inside just listening to it. You might be bored or frustrated with the direction a conversation has taken, but maybe it’s lighting someone else up. Why does it always have to be about us? Why can’t we, for a moment, see how what we are complaining about might actually be wonderful for someone else? And if the subject of our complaint is actually making someone else happy, shouldn’t that be enough?
It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.
So here’s my challenge. What would it look like if we turned every complaint into a moment of gratitude instead? What if we were grateful for all the the slow drivers, the snorers, the bitter food, the gaudy paint colours, and the obnoxious music blasting through the stereo. What if we learned to catch ourselves and, even for just a moment, shift to gratitude? What if we began to recognize that what might make us feel frustration, agitation or annoyance might be making someone else feel over the moon? Why not just let them fly? Why not try and soar with them?
Let’s choose to see beauty in the world we are presented with, rather than always hoping for a different one.