Let me share a few examples…
First, there was the stand up comedian I spotted while flipping through the channels one evening. It is a nightly ritual. I pay a lot of money to have about a gazillion channels and then complain every night that I can’t find anything on TV to watch. Well, I paused my channel surfing routine when I spotted this comedian. He was one of those chubby, overweight Southern boys who can usually get a laugh out of me. Here’s the part of his monologue that I caught. It went something like this…
My buddy Bubba was told by his doctor that he had only six months to live. In shock, he asked if there was anything that could be done. He was still a young man and had many things left to do in life. The doctor thought about his question for a bit, and then finally gave him a solution. The doctor told him to go out and find the ugliest, most cantankerous woman he could find and marry her. He told Bubba to be sure that he found a woman who would nag him constantly, and complain about everything he said or did. Next, he had to go out and buy the most beat-up old pickup truck he could find, preferably one that would spend most of its time broken down in the yard. Then he needed to buy a run down old trailer and a dog that wouldn’t come to him even if he hung a pork chop around his neck. Well, my friend Bubba was real skeptical; he said, “Doc, are you sure that this will help me to live longer?” “Not at all,” replied the doctor, “but it sure will make six months seem a lot longer!”
I was laughing, but it dawned on me that our human nature just loves to complain. In fact, I’d just been enjoying my nightly ritual of complaining about the choices on TV. A few days later I was surfing the internet looking for something I needed to buy for my cousin’s wedding. As I clicked here and there, somehow I landed on an advertisement for Gratitude Rocks. Yes, you heard me, rocks. People are making money selling rocks. But, it was the idea that struck me. Put a gratitude rock in your pocket, each time you touch it you are reminded to take a moment to thank God for your blessings.
I was cleaning my home office and came across a book of poetry by e.e.cummings. In it he wrote, “I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirit of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”
Finally, my Oprah magazine arrived in the mailbox. There was a little blurb about how Oprah keeps a gratitude journal. Well, I knew this was true because she had inspired me to do the same thing. I have been journaling my gratitude for a few years now. Do you remember being little and having your mother lean down and whisper, “What do you say”? You knew you were expected to say, “Thank you”. My gratitude journal is my way of reminding myself to say “Thank you” for the blessings in my life. I was feeling pretty smug; yup, I had gratitude covered with my journal. In fact, I picked up my journal to read some of my entries so that I could pat myself on the back for what a really fine and grateful person I am. I flipped through the pages and began to read some of what I have written. Well, I wish I could report to you that what I found reinforced my belief that I had gratitude all taken care of, but unfortunately I can’t.
I’m so old that when I was in elementary school we could actually pray. I remember the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer we used to recite daily before we ate our lunch: “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed.The Lord is good to me.” Did you have a prayer like that? Sort of the “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food.” plain brown wrapper kind of prayer that you recited without ever really thinking about it? Well, when I looked at my supposedly marvelous gratitude journal, that is pretty much what I saw. My entries were basically, “I am thankful for my home, my family, my friends, and my health.” And I just sort of recycled those themes over and over again in one form or another over the years.
So, okay, this had all gotten my attention, but I was still questioning: Is gratitude just some New Age, touchy-feely thing, or am I really supposed to remember to say “Thank you”? My answer is that I believe that a purposeful act of gratitude will enrich our lives, make us more connected to each other and to God. Now, the question becomes, “How do I take this and apply it to my day to day life?” Dr. Wayne Dyer is quoted as saying, “With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself, or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.”
Wow! That is an aha! moment for me. I have the power to choose. If I let my human nature control my thoughts, I may choose to be grumpy rather than grateful. Yes, it is our nature. People like to complain and they like to listen to others complain. I can’t remember seeing people at work sitting in the break room talking about all the things they are grateful for, I usually hear them complaining and griping. It is up to me to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I hear people just like me saying things like:
“My husband doesn’t listen!”
“My wife never shuts up!”
“I deserve more respect!”
“They can’t do that to me!”
“My boss doesn’t appreciate all the work that I do!”
I guess I’m telling myself that I need to stop, step back. Life is a divine appointment and there is a plan for me, and that plan is unfolding each and every day. And so, I have made a new entry into my gratitude journal. I made a list of all the things that upset, frustrate, or sadden me. Then I have begun thinking about ways to turn them into an opportunity for thanksgiving and gratitude. For example, I hate that I am overweight. However, I realized that I should be grateful that over my 46 years in education, my weight has provided many children a soft place to land in times of trauma. I really, really hate to pay bills. I put it off as long as I can before they are past due. This month, I gathered the bills in my lap and took a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have a life style that creates bills. You know, I didn’t mind paying the bills nearly as much.
How many grumpy thoughts can you transform into grateful ones?