Gratitude is a Choice
I've been thinking about habits lately, and the power they have in our lives.
There's a woman I know who has suffered a lot in her life, and is not in an ideal place, for her, right now. She doesn't understand why her life is at the point it is and yet her default mode of existence is to see only the bad in her life, never the good. She's practiced finding the bad for such a long time now that she's very good at it. She doesn't know how to do anything else. She has researched, to find out just how bad her family history really is. She tells stories, of things that happened, and what she sees in them is all negative. It's like she is truly blind to the places where good entered in. She sees none of the blessings and only the trials.
Now, I dearly love her and I'm still figuring out how I could possibly explain this all to her, in a way that she would be able to receive. I know that the bad things that happened to her were truly bad, and that she did really suffer.
What she seems to be unaware of is the fact that she's not the only one. I want to sit her down and say, "We all suffer. We've all gone through things we would rather not have. The difference between you and the people around you is not that you have suffered more than they, it is that you choose so often to focus on your suffering that you've forgotten how to do anything else. They focus on the blessings they have, you focus instead on what you don't have. Stop believing the lie that you deserve better than what you have been dealt and refusing to be happy until your life looks like it was 'supposed to look' and realize that you are blessed, even now, even here, you are not alone, and you are blessed. Only then will you be free."
It's hard to figure out how to be heard by someone who is so well practiced at only taking the bad out of what you say though. I'm not sure it would work. I try to make sure that she knows I love her instead. That might get through eventually. I hope.
You see, memories don't go back into the mental filing cabinet unaltered. Every time we take them out, examine them, and retell the story we alter them slightly, color them over with filters of our own making. That's how counselors are able to help trauma patients, taking that memory out and examining it over and over again and changing the nuances of it enough that their memory of an event can be healed.
When you tell yourself the same awful story over and over and over again it makes it even stronger. You give it more power over your life with every telling.
Changing your habits and patterns of thought can change your life. Not because positive thinking is magic, but because the story you believe you live in affects everything you do, and how you do it.
It's not good enough to try and get rid of a damaging behavior, to stop doing something you ought not to do. You need a positive alternative.
That's where the practice of gratitude comes in. Gratitude isn't a feeling, it's a discipline. You choose to notice the praiseworthy things in your life. You choose to focus on those things and you force yourself to, once a day, or once every hour, find at least one, two, three things that are good to say thank-you for.
You choose to give thanks so your life doesn't become thankless. You choose to see the good so that you don't one day end up completely blind to it.
Every choice, every day, is strengthening something. You can choose to strengthen your ability to see what is bad, sad and frightening in your life, or you can choose to strengthen your ability to see what is good, to find what is joyful and praise worthy, and to find contentment where you are. Rather than waiting to enjoy life until it reaches some impossible standard that you hold over it, constantly comparing what you have, to what you don't have, you can have joy right now.
It really is your choice. What will you choose?