I don't believe in magic, but I love magical stuff. Not just a nifty card trick or even a grand illusion (although I do love a good rabbit in the hat), but more specifically those subtle tricks in life that on the surface may seem counter-intuitive, even paradoxical, but when executed create a powerful result. Gratitude is like that.
Here we are bumping around on earth, tiny specks on this infinitesimally small spinning ball in the vastness of the cosmos. A large percentage of our days are filled with the mundane: Work may feel unrewarding, family life is often messy and chaotic, financial pressures can be overwhelming. It's no wonder that sometimes we lie sleeplessly staring at the ceiling wondering what it is all for. And then there is the hard stuff and the down right devastating: Unemployment, divorce, depression, abuse, illness/injury, suicide/death.... the list is long and sobering. These are intensely bitter sorrows - the kinds that inspired Shakespeare's weary lines: "Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone, Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."
In a little more modern twist, Rocky puts it like this: "The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life"
With life hitting as hard as it sometimes can, the immediate natural and logical response feels like it should be to ask "what's in it for me?" or "what's life done for me lately?" The problem with this mindset is that it creates a perpetual loop of waiting for an external force to stimulate gratification. If we do this, we are just putting our will in the hands of chaos hoping things will "go exactly as planned" so that we can find meaning and happiness. The problem is that in chaos, things often go far different than planned and even when they do, eventually that stimulus erodes and we are left waiting to fill the hole that remains. We are then back to waiting, our attention acutely locked on getting that next fix to make everything right in the world. This is rarely satisfying and never sustainable.
The magic of gratitude is that it is transformative - it changes us right where we stand even while our circumstances remain unchanged. This change obliterates the "waiting on the world" loop because our perspective shifts and suddenly every day, each moment, is full of exactly "what is in it for" each of us - everything we need in order to choose happiness. The paradox is that, to the observer, nothing has changed. Somehow amidst the same mundaneness, the same challenges and the same pain is real joy, bright opportunity and enduring happiness - the stuff that makes life truly meaningful. Gratitude magically flips the source of happiness from an external wanting to internal engine of recognition and realization that will fuel life for as long as it lasts. Maybe even longer as our legacy lives on.
Gratitude does not equal complacency, if anything, it is the opposite. Gratitude is a rigorous, active volition, where an individual takes full control of her will and consciously chooses to find meaning in the present. This attitude is precisely the optimal state of mind and state of action that will empower that individual to bring about plans of progress and improvement in the future.
Just like any well performed magic, the key to becoming expert at gratitude is in the practice of it - and the practice is hard work. It is very easy to get into a rut and focus on what is missing, uncomfortable and wrong in our individual worlds. It is much harder to shift our focus and see all the good things that are happening for us. Harder still is to recognize everything amazing that we take for granted every day. And hardest of all is find value and meaning in the very challenges that are making life uncomfortable.
A great place to start is with one very simple thing every morning. Maybe it is those first few deep breaths of clean air that you take in. Perhaps it is light of the sun just barely cracking against the horizon. Maybe it is the sound of someone you love still snoozing or jostling around in the kitchen. Focus on that one thing and find genuine thanks in your heart. Then, like a flame, let that attitude spread to something else and then something else. At last take a moment an vocalize that gratitude to someone and enjoy.
In the spirit of gratitude, I've included two incredible videos that stimulated some personal reflection in me and challenged me to consider some practical ways to be changed by gratitude on a daily basis. I hope you will join me, and make each day a happyspace_ by allowing gratitude to transform you.