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May 4, 2015

The Special Ingredient That Changed My Life

gratitude changed my life

Gratitude changed my life. Seriously.

Last spring, my life was, on the outside, pretty similar to now, only I was really unhappy.  I was living in the Phoenix area, building a business, doing yoga, taking little beach trips here and there.

A variety of issues was upsetting me, causing me to resist life, and ultimately, I realized one key ingredient was missing. Gratitude.

And so, in conjunction with a new moon, I embarked on a 30-day gratitude challenge. It wasn’t an official challenge, just something I committed to for 30 days, with the moon cycles there to help plant seeds of intention.

Every time a negative thought arose, I stopped to breathe and found something to be grateful for. And there was so much.

For example, I disliked living in Phoenix, but we lived here because my husband had a good job, which allowed me freedom to build a freelance writing business without too much financial stress. Once I started feeling grateful for this flexibility instead of railing against feeling stuck in the desert, my mindset shifted. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, I focused on what I did. Thoughts of lack shifted to those of abundance.

Gratitude helped me identify wasted resources, that when tapped, unleashed an explosion of heart-centered passion and creativity. 

 

With a mind newly attuned to abundance, previously wasted opportunities flipped into focus. A flexible schedule meant I could attend yoga teacher training. It meant time for creative projects, like this blog and Instagram, things my scarcity mentality had not created time for.

 

The truth about gratitude

Gratitude essentially involves dropping ideas of what you think the present moment should look like and tuning into reality. By tuning into what is and identifying the positives, the mind shifts from a state of lack to one of abundance.

Before gratefully acknowledging my flexibility, my mind was fixated in lack. I felt I never had enough work, even though I was making reasonable money. Instead of feeling grateful for my existing clients, I was always trying to land new ones — not bigger or more prestigious projects, just more at the same level. This led to frequent burnout and frustration. I felt stagnant.

My accomplishments never felt fulfilling because they didn’t reflect my true desires. Feelings of lack convoluted my entire mentality and influenced fear-based decisions.

Lack in my environment made me see lack in myself. I believed I was not enough.

Lack in my vision blinded me to languishing opportunities. I believed I did not have enough when everything I needed to build a new life was right in front of me.

Lack and its partner comparison blocked me from connecting with my higher self. I didn’t know what I wanted. Only what I didn’t have.

Once gratitude helped me appreciate that enough was enough, I began to carve time out for personal projects. I had more energy because gratitude creates inspiration while lack and wishful thinking block us from moving with the flow of life.

With gratitude pushing me back into the flow, I began to listen to myself with a little more love. That helped me learn about myself as I am today, my passions and my dreams. I had been striving to realize decade-old dreams, ones from my 20s, when I was a completely different person. I had new dreams now, but I didn’t know what they were.

In gratitude, I realized I not only had enough, but I was enough. I learned how to listen to my heart and its whispered longings.

What unfolded next was the start to a new chapter. A new me. A new adventure unlike anything I ever envisioned. It was different, but awesome.

As a side note, everyone’s opportunities look different, so please don’t compare yourself to this story. I guarantee you have more resources than you think you do, whether tangible or not.

There’s always something to be grateful for. As an example for those who may be going through a tough time, I’m a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy at 27 and thank the universe all the time for my fake boobs because they look pretty darn good.

The key is switching from a perspective that identifies lack to one that identifies abundance. Potential. Opportunity. You have all the tools you need. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging the toolbox.

 

Gratitude builds self-esteem

Another way gratitude changed my life is that it helped me see my worthiness. When all I saw was lack—I don’t have this, I don’t have that—I attributed that lack to an unfriendly universe that didn’t like me anymore.

But I’m actually really blessed. I have my health — which, for a cancer survivor is pretty amazing — a loving husband, an amazing dog, food to eat, and some extras that make life enjoyable. Once gratitude helped me see how much abundance was present in my life, this made me almost feel guilty about how incredibly lucky I was. Thank you.

 

Can gratitude be learned?

This post was inspired by someone’s comment on a MindBodyGreen article I wrote about how positive affirmations sometimes backfire.

She wrote, “If you have to remind yourself or make a list of the things you are grateful for, then you are probably kidding yourself. The state of being grateful cannot be commanded. Sooner or later something we don’t like will turn up and the gratitude list will be forgotten.”

This is interesting, and really made me think, especially because I had just written an entire article on why affirmations don’t necessarily work. Was gratitude a type of affirmation?

But no, I don’t think it is. Gratitude is a mental practice, and actually contentment, or santosha, is one of yoga’s ethical precepts. Cultivating a grateful mindset is a practice just like the physical postures, and this practice increasingly becomes part of our natural, effortless mindset over time.

At the core, gratitude is a way of perceiving the world. It’s integral to mindfulness. If you drink a glass of water, and you’re fully in the moment, enjoying every drop and feeling the cool liquid glide down your throat, how can you not feel grateful for the water?

Or if you’re looking at a beautiful sunset, and feeling the beautiful sorbet colors just wash over you, how can you not feel grateful for such an immense display of beauty?

Sure things we’re grateful for sometimes leave. People and pets die, or we may grow sick or injured. But that’s the point of gratitude, to recognize that nothing is permanent and enjoy what exists today instead of focusing on what is not here. Because the people or things we take for granted may leave us, and then we’ll realize how much they meant. So appreciate blessings now, while we have them. We’re not entitled; we’re grateful.

Of course we fall out of gratitude or have bad days. We’re not robots. If your friend dies, you’re not going to just say to yourself, “well I’m so grateful he was alive,” and be done with it. No. You’ll cry and mourn, and grieve, feeling it all and eventually work through that pain and, hopefully, regain that sense of gratitude one day.

Because like most good things in life, learning gratitude takes time.

What are your thoughts about gratitude?

Image by Craig ONeal via Flickr

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Cj - May 9, 2015 Reply

This post struck me into realizing that lately gratitude has been very absent from my life and is something I desperately need to return. I have been extremely down on myself and my situation as a single mother struggling to move forward that I have forgotten to be grateful for what I do have. Thank you for the reminder and the idea of the unofficial challenge.

Shannon - May 12, 2015 Reply

Gratitude for me is, in a sense, similar to a prayer. I stop to thank the universe for everything in my life…the good mainly, but I have been thankful for the bad as it usually is a learning opportunity. Being thankful leads me to being gratefulI. If I don’t take time for gratitude, I get caught up in anger and depression and hopelessness. Being grateful by way of a list or in any form is something that reminds us to slow down and smell the flowers.

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