Yesterday, I was jogging (or more realistically, shuffling) up a hill near my neighborhood. Halfway up the hill, I could feel my body trying to fight gravity. My legs felt heavy, and I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. I took a deep breath and then expressed gratitude for having legs that could still carry me and a heart that was still pumping blood throughout my body. As I kept pushing myself to move, I realized the joy I was starting to feel was more powerful than the discomfort I was experiencing.
Focusing on gratitude has been associated with positive emotions – emotions that actually have some health benefits. Some reported health-related benefits include: better sleep, more energy and even increased longevity.
Living a Life of Gratitude Takes Discipline
I do find that it takes some discipline to make gratitude a natural part of everyday living. I lack such discipline more often than I care to admit. It is easy to move about my daily routines in a mindless state. For example, I can take a walk and not notice anything of interest. However, when I intentionally plan to live with gratitude, the world opens up.
Because I have more control over my own time, I am learning to slow down a bit and live more deliberately. I think that is one of the gifts of retirement I’m especially thankful for right now.
An Attitude of Gratitude Can Open Up the World
As often as I can remember, I am trying to find ways to be intentional about expressing gratitude. When walking, riding my bike, or ‘jogging,’ I tell myself to think of at least five things for which I’m thankful. So that I don’t simply start listing the obvious such as those nearest and dearest to me, I look for the less obvious. Sometimes I might notice a colorful butterfly perched on a wildflower, or I might focus on the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. Whatever comes into my awareness can become opportunities to express gratitude.
Gratitude Can Help Heal Past Injuries or Injustices
Of course, it is easy to be thankful for the things that bring pleasure or joy into our lives. But what about painful experiences that become part of our life story? I don’t know about you, but I do find it very difficult to be thankful for heartbreak, pain, and struggles when I am experiencing them. However, I’m learning the value of reflective gratitude – looking back on life and recognizing the good that came from different life struggles.
All of us have felt hurt, betrayed, or wronged in different ways. When I have held onto such injuries, it has been like living with splinters under my skin. I have finally been able to release a few of those splinters through reflective gratitude. For example, I harbored an injustice I’d experienced for several years. Once I revisited that injustice and reframed it as a ‘learning opportunity,’ I was able to feel gratitude for what I gained from that experience; only then was I finally free from the injury I had carried for so long.
I suspect there are some things in my life that I am not ready to embrace with gratitude. I do know that an attitude of gratitude is important as I move forward as an elder woman. Disciplining myself to live with gratitude is a work in progress.
What do you feel gratitude for right now? I’d love to hear your thoughts.