Here in our Stories of Grateful Living, we honor the voices of our community as we invite people to share their personal experiences with gratefulness. Join us in appreciating the explorations, reflections, and insights of fellow community members as we collectively learn what it means to live gratefully.
I happened upon the idea and practice of living gratefully in 1996. At that time, my life was not moving in any significant direction. I was unhappy with my job, I only lived for the weekends, and I struggled financially at every turn. I had no solid sense of spirituality or expressed passion of any kind. My self-confidence and self-esteem were affected by shame and guilt for things I had done and not done.
My most productive time was spent in the self-help section of book stores. One day I read a story about two farmers walking with their rabbi. The rabbi asked the first farmer, “How are you?” The first farmer replied, “Horrible, nothing ever works out for me.” God was listening and said, “Horrible? I’ll show you horrible.” When the rabbi asked the second farmer how he was doing he replied, “Wonderful, I am so grateful for everything in my life.” God was still listening and said, “Wonderful? I’ll show you wonderful!”
I began to see mistakes, especially ones that carried shame, as expensive, valuable gifts.
To be clear, I don’t believe God is vengeful. But what this powerful story gave me was insight into how I was looking at my life. I believed my life was not going well, my thoughts were focused on what I didn’t have versus what I did have. I reflected on how we respond to gifts. If I am given a gift and don’t appreciate its value, the gift giver may have second thoughts about giving to me again. At the time, this made sense to me. I wanted more gifts. So I simply started to say “thank you” – thank you for my apartment, my friends and family, my car, my job, the money I did have, the weather — sunny or rainy, and most importantly, suffering. Instead of feeling shame for the mistakes I made, I chose to be grateful for them because of the insight and growth they provided. I began to see mistakes, especially ones that carried shame, as expensive, valuable gifts.
The beautiful part of this story is, the more I was grateful, the more I had to be grateful for. My life started to change. I was able to go to graduate school, something I never thought I would be able to afford, I met my amazing life partner and developed relationships with people who encouraged and believed in me. My life was moving in a direction of better and better, and I began to see gratitude as a magnet for good things as well as a way to cope when things were not, seemingly, working out.
Of course having had such a positive change in my life, I wanted to share it with my family, my friends, and in my practice as a therapist. However, I found it very uncomfortable and at times almost cruel to talk about gratitude when someone was in pain either emotionally or physically. I began to wonder what it would have been like if I learned about gratitude while suffering from constant physical pain, if I was living on the street, or if I was suffering from an addiction and my children had been taken away from me. I may have laughed (or worse) in the face of whomever told me I should be more grateful.
Seeing oneself as undeserving of happiness makes it hard to receive the gift that living gratefully renders.
Working at a 30-day rehabilitation center for women struggling with addiction, I became highly aware of this challenge. Addiction can seemingly take everything — your livelihood, your housing, your children, your partner, and your true self gets buried deep, down inside. And so, the suggestion to live more gratefully can be met with incredulity and anger. In addition, many people who struggle with addiction feel shame for the place they have found themselves and the pain they caused their loved ones. Seeing oneself as undeserving of happiness makes it hard to receive the gift that living gratefully renders.
Gently pushing forward, aware that for some, gratefulness was beyond their current reach as shame and suffering persisted, I discovered that teaching grateful living became about acceptance. We cannot move forward unless we accept where we are, and we cannot reclaim and restore our lives unless we take account of what we have left — what addiction has not taken. And isn’t this the very idea of living gratefully? Being in the NOW? The question becomes: What do I have right now that I don’t want to lose? As Brother David Steindl-Rast instructs us, “Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open — that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment.”
Many acknowledge that the suffering they experienced created self-awareness, clarity, compassion, and empathy, and they begin to view gratitude as a spiritual practice.
By the time the women have gone through the 30-day program and a six-week Intensive Out-Patient program (IOP), their understanding and practice of gratitude has usually deepened. Many acknowledge that the suffering they experienced created self-awareness, clarity, compassion, and empathy, and they begin to view gratitude as a spiritual practice. I often think of the quote by Vine Deloria, Jr.: “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”
I wrote a gratitude journal specifically designed to capture the struggle of recovery – the anger, the hopelessness, the shame and guilt. The journal also helps to name the simple things in life that we can be grateful for — yes, toilet paper is mentioned. When I share this journal with women on their first day of IOP, I am met with excitement and appreciation. They ask if I can write a gratitude journal for their children. Knowing where these women were emotionally and mentally only 30 days before, I feel overwhelmingly grateful.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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What a wonderful article! There is so much wisdom here. I love in the beginning how you said “I believe my life was not going well… so I started to say thank you”. This idea is so powerful. Why is it so hard to remember sometimes to be grateful? I would love to know. Why? Why? Your article was a beautiful reminder that if you remember to be grateful there are so, so many gifts. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you, Craig, for your wonderful and kind response to my article. It is a story I have been wanting to share for some time. I am always in awe of the miracles gratitude can bring about. It opens doors, it inspires and can instill a powerful feeling of trust and trust, as Brother David says, is new beginnings. Thank you and be safe.
Dear Katie, thank-you so much for sharing your story! In my own life, having learned to live gratefully has SO profoundly transformed my life! I have come to love and appreciate life SO much! As I am writing this, my heart is filled with such love and joy! I want to say that gratefulness.org has been a huge part in my learning to live gratefully. Thank-you Katie! Thank-you gratefulness.org! Thank-you God!!!
Love and blessings to all ?
Hello Sheila! Thank you for your heartfelt response to my article. The psychological response to gratitude is perspective – we begin to see what we have versus what we don’t have. But that’s only part of it. I believe gratitude is a miracle-making venture and connects us to the Divine. That’s why we feel so joy-filled when we are in a state of gratitude. Thank you for sharing your joy!
Thank you for sharing your story and your wisdom. Quote,”Moving from the Pain of Addiction to Living Gratefully”, unquote, which one can use any addiction as all negative thoughts or acts. Thank you again and love
Dear Is, thank you for your response to my article. I was going to entitle the article something like “Oh My Gosh, Please Don’t Tell Me to be Grateful!” because addiction is so much about loss and it’s so hard to climb up and out of those negative thoughts and feelings. First, we have to acknowledge our losses and feel angry, sad, scared. Once we do that, which is acceptance, we can take a peek out to see what is left and be grateful for that – baby steps. Thank you again for your kind words.