OPINION — As each Thanksgiving approaches, I like to take some time to reflect on how present gratitude is in my life.
It’s astonishing how this simple exercise can bring so many aspects of life into clearer focus. We live in a time when most of us have so much going right in our lives that we can afford to joke around about having First World problems.
How many of us have ever spent time contemplating which of our vehicles we’d rather drive, or agonizing over which TV show would be the better use of our leisure time? A sizable chunk of the world’s population doesn’t have to worry about stuff like that.
When we’re warm, well-fed and comfortable, it can be difficult to cultivate an ongoing attitude of authentic gratitude. Sometimes it takes a hard jolt of reality to remind us that there’s plenty we’ve been taking for granted.
I’m reminded of a plaque I saw on my chiropractor’s wall in Cedar City that read: “A healthy man has many wishes, a sick man has only one.”
The first few times I tried to itemize the things for which I was grateful, it felt like I was simply making a list of things that were going so awesome that I wanted to brag about them. These days, I’m finding that my gratitude is less dependent upon how well things are going.
For instance, while traveling home to Utah from visiting family in Idaho, I learned that my aunt was hospitalized in Ogden and having heart problems. Since we were passing through, I texted her and asked if we could pay her a visit.
Truth be told, my family and I were tired of driving and anxious to get home but something whispered to my heart that opportunities to visit with family are not to be taken for granted. At the very least, we hoped to cheer her up.
When my family walked into my aunt’s hospital room, I was surprised to find her in good spirits and happy to see us.
Her health problems are considerable and no one could fault her for complaining about the challenging circumstances she’s facing. I watched as she joked with her nurses and with me and my family as she was having brought us up to speed on her situation.
By the time my family and I walked out of the hospital and back to our car, I was noticing how her positive attitude had infected every member of my family. Each of my kids remarked how much fun my aunt is and how glad they were that we had stopped to see her.
Our mission to cheer her up had been unexpectedly reversed into an experience that lifted our own spirits and strengthened our family ties as well.
I’m convinced that the dynamic that fuels my aunt’s cheerful demeanor is her sense of gratitude under any circumstances.
It’s easy to feel grateful when the seas are calm and life is sailing along smoothly. To maintain our sense of gratitude when we are in distress or suffering is not so easy.
This is not the same thing as living in denial or simply choosing to be naive. It’s a conscious decision to find the good in whatever comes our way and to allow that gratitude to be felt by those around us.
We’re not turning a blind eye to the injustices, suffering or evil that is part of the world around us. Instead, we’re refusing to tie ourselves to it by endlessly complaining about the bad and spreading despair in the process.
It’s fine to be upset when things don’t go as we hoped. It’s OK to feel anger or disappointment when faced with difficult circumstances.
To wallow in these emotions is to overindulge when they can be effectively acknowledged and experienced by dipping our toes into them for a little while instead. At some point, we all are faced with a choice of what we will do or learn from our troubles.
There’s a curious societal tendency to cling to victimhood as a means of gaining legitimacy or even power over the people around us. That’s unhealthy for everyone involved.
The people who can find the good in their setbacks are more likely to lift others to a more positive and higher state of living. They become a source of comfort and inspiration to everyone around them.
Consider taking some time during this Thanksgiving week to not only count your blessings but also to take note of the things that didn’t go right that nevertheless ended up helping you become a better person.
Two things are likely to happen as a result of doing this.
Trials and setbacks start to look more like opportunities and the people around you will find strength and inspiration in your example. How can that be a bad thing?
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events and liberty viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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