Image by Tú Anh
As you wander on through life, sister/brother,
whatever be your goal,
keep your eye upon the donut,
and not upon the hole.
—SIGN IN THE MAYFLOWER COFFEE SHOP, CHICAGO
Best-selling author Iyanla Venzant, who penned such inspirational books as Acts of Faithand One Day My Soul Just Opened, has lived the prototypical rags-to-riches story. A former welfare recipient, she was about forty when her life began to turn around. Through it all, she claims, her sense of gratitude kept her going. “I’m grateful for everything,” she says, “from being homeless to sitting in a half-million-dollar house.”
This remarkable woman is pointing to something very important about gratitude—that we can experience it even “in spite of” something else: that our friend is lying in a hospital dying, that millions of people are starving as you read this, that our own lives have trials and tribulations that might be sorely testing us.
We can’t wait until everything is OK—with us or with the rest of the world—to feel thankful, or we will never experience it at all. “The world is too bent for unshadowed joy,” Lewis Smedes points out, and so we must catch and kiss our joy as it flies by, even in the midst of sorrow or suffering. This is not to imply that we deny suffering, but just that we not allow our suffering to blind us to the beauty and joy that surrounds us no matter what else is going on.
It’s a matter of where you choose to put your attention. Try the following experiments:
1. Pick one morning and stop every hour on the hour and notice what went wrong in that time period. The traffic was terrible and you were late to work; the weather was gloomy and cold; your boss complained about the project you’ve worked so hard on.
2. That afternoon, stop every hour on the hour and notice what went right: An old friend called out of the blue; the sun came out; you did an excellent job on the sales letter.
Did you feel more alive in the morning or in the afternoon?
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Appreciate the Ordinary
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.
—MARY JEAN IRON
It’s hard to appreciate the ordinary, except in contrast to something hard or challenging. I am always reminded of the truth of this when I’ve been sick. When I am well, I take my physical being for granted. I don’t particularly notice how I feel; I’m simply not aware of it. But when I’ve been sick and begin to feel better, I am filled with immense gratitude for how good it feels not to be sick—not to have an aching head, a burning throat, leaden muscles and joints. I feel exactly as I normally do, but now I notice how great that is.
Other people experience this sensation from a close call in a car or plane, an almost-bankruptcy, anything that shakes us out of complacency and wakes us to the wonder of our ordinary existence.
The trick, of course, is to learn how to have that awareness without having to be sick, almost lose your house, or get hurt in a car crash. One way to do it is to pick an ordinary task, something you do every day, and decide that just for today, you will do it with awareness. It can be anything—washing dishes, chopping vegetables, making the bed. Instead of doing it while thinking about something else, such as the dinner that still needs to be made or how mad you are at the driver who cut you off, you actually pay attention to the task itself rather than being on automatic pilot. Notice the high-pitched whirring of the vacuum cleaner, the hard-yet-soft feel of the ribbed hose in your hand, the sight of the white dog hairs against the hardwood floor as they are sucked into the vacuum. . . .
This kind of awareness practice, the more specific the better, is great for fostering a sense of appreciation for the ordinary. As Rick Field notes, “When we pay attention, whatever we are doing—whether it be cooking, cleaning or making love—is transformed. . . . We begin to notice details and textures that we never noticed before; everyday life becomes clearer, sharper, and at the same time more spacious.” Our eyes are opened once again to the miracles of the absolutely ordinary and joy fills our hearts.
Gratitude: Antidote to Bitterness and Resentment
The more light you allow within you,
the brighter the world you live in will be.
Bitterness is a poison that snuffs the light of our souls, hardening us to life’s pleasures and joys by keeping us focused only on what is wrong. When the man I lived with for fourteen years left me, he said it was because I was turning bitter and he didn’t want to stick around to see it. Although there were other reasons for our breakup, including many he was responsible for, after the pain of the loss had subsided I gave thanks to him for the wake-up call; I was turning into a resentful woman, and that was the last thing on Earth I wanted to be.
I’m determined not to sink into bitterness again. While there are plenty of things in life to be justifiably annoyed, angry, or hurt at, that doesn’t mean that I should completely ignore all that is beautiful, good, and touching. I want my soul to shine with an overflowing of love, and practicing gratitude is one of the best ways I know to do it.
Gratitude is an inner light that we can use to illumine our souls. The more we are thankful, the more light we experience and the more we shine forth into the world.
©2017. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life
by M.J. Ryan.
Gratitude can be a powerful agent for change. Research has confirmed its many emotional and physical benefits. This book will encourage you to begin, commit to, and celebrate gratitude so you can experience more joy in life. Replaces ISBN 9781573244114
Click here for more info and/or to order this book. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
M.J. Ryan is one of the creators of the New York Times bestselling Random Acts of Kindness and the author of The Happiness Makeover, and Attitudes of Gratitude, among other titles. Altogether, there are 1.75 million copies of her titles in print. She specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, and leadership teams around the world. A member of the International Coaching Federation, she is a contributing editor to Health.com and Good Housekeeping and has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, and hundreds of radio programs. Visit the author at www.mj-ryan.com