Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy – because we will always want to have something else or something more. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Gratitude, pain, stress, and heartache have been woven into my life song; much of it in a three-year spiritual marathon. I cannot honestly and authentically talk about the light without acknowledging the dark.
I believed I was living the good American life with all the trappings — a home, a career, two cars, good health, a wife, children, and a dog. I was “Facebook perfect” and appeared to have it all together. I had built my foundation on home improvement projects, busyness, a focus on the future and wanting something more. The reality was that I was sometimes discontent and angry. I had little awareness of the effects of growing up in a high-functioning, hardworking, and alcoholic family. I was trying to control family members’ problem drinking. I even moved across the state and away from my family to “help” a spouse be happy. I was losing myself, unaware of my character issues, and my marriage was falling apart.
The first big fall; the wife I loved left me for my friend. A wife, supposed friend, and half of my family exited. When a spouse leaves you for someone else, they aren’t highlighting all your positive traits on their way out the door. I felt betrayed, alone, confused, anxious, shameful, and depressed. I was too ashamed to tell my grandmother that I was getting divorced while she lay in a hospital bed approaching the end of her life.
Sleeplessness and exhaustion were as much a part of life as the sun setting each evening.
More falling. My parents divorced. My dad had battled alcoholism for decades. Dad’s “rock bottom” was stage 4 liver disease; living out his so-called golden years in a Florida nursing home, too ill to travel the 1500 miles north to see his family.
The stress of it all affected the rest of my family and our relationships deteriorated.
During this time period my beloved dog died; I was furloughed at work; I experienced vertigo; a relationship with a girlfriend ended, and two more family members died. Sleeplessness and exhaustion were as much a part of life as the sun setting each evening. Raising my children without family nearby was difficult.
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. ~ Albert Schweitzer
I often prayed, meditated and gave thanks while jogging or spending time in nature. I joined support groups and sought professional help. Good, healthy people came to my assistance.
Again and again, I would hear about the value of gratitude, being present, and mindfulness from people who not only survived terrible situations but thrived. I was still bouncing along my “rock-bottom,” but now I had a healthy support system in place to keep me from drowning. The flame of hope and possibility was lit. “At least now,” I thought, “the storm is over and I can grieve, recover, and rest.”
The pain was almost unbearable. Just a little over a year after my dad passed, my first cousin (I only have two) was found hanging in her garage in late November. A beautiful, young, well-liked woman with a great smile. She left two young children behind. Good-bye wonderful soul; you are sorely missed. The pain kept crashing to the shore. Wave after wave, year after year. Most days I didn’t even know which event was causing the grief.
I listened. I waited. And I heard — “You have so much to be thankful for.”
The gratitude I was practicing was helpful, yet it felt like I was a three-mile runner thrust into a marathon of grief. Focusing on each moment became very real for me, not just to be happy, but to survive.
Winter was approaching. Days were getting shorter and colder. I prayed and meditated. I asked my Higher Power for guidance. I listened. I waited. And I heard — “You have so much to be thankful for.” The darker it got, the more I concentrated on the light of gratitude. I stumbled many times but kept going. I had to keep the flame alive.
I stayed connected with healthy people and avoided isolation. I focused on self-care like running, volunteering, praying, meditating, listening to spiritual podcasts, talking and meeting with healthy friends, as well as spending time in nature. I wrote down every gratitude quote I could find. I focused on the good and when I didn’t, my mind drifted to the darkness and my own “stinking thinking.” The quotes piled up; 50, 100, 150. Sometimes my children would read them with me. We added nature photographs to the quotes. This time with my children was a blessing.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be. ~ Anne Frank
I cannot think of anything more simple, beautiful, healing, and non-judgmental than nature teamed with gratitude. Wild animals and plants seem to be very accepting of their lot in life. Compiling gratitude quotes led to a 130-page gratitude/nature photo/meditation book called “Life Changing Gratitude – Your Shortcut to Authentic Happiness.” The book is my “thank you” to all those lanterns that lit my path to gratitude. It is written for friends like you who have grieved and lived with pain and darkness, or someday will live through it. Although our circumstances may be different, we are very much alike and not alone. May gratitude too become part of your life song.