I will never again experience the level of emotional pain I suffered the day I saw my parents disappear into the Cuban horizon as the plane I was on sped towards Miami from Havana. Starting my American life as an orphan in a Colorado orphanage was rough. Yet, these events catapulted my life into the miracle of hope and opportunity it is today. When I reflect on this, the proof is irrefutable; even the most painful events taught me lessons that helped shape me into a better man.
My most recent life transition—ushered in by divorce, unemployment and a relocation to another state—opened the door for self-examination and discovery that has allowed me to create a more joyful life. I have never felt more comfortable inside my skin, nor more grateful for my life than I do today.
Take the time to reflect on your life, and you will find a similar pattern. Sure, you didn’t reach a place of gratitude right away, but eventually you found good emerged out of the worst of situations.
Paying gratitude forward
Our traditions demand that we withhold expressing gratitude until after we receive a gift from someone. When it comes to our life, however, we need time and perspective to define the gifts our experiences gave us before we can experience gratitude for them. This is normal. Perspective has given me the wisdom to understand the purpose of every lesson, person and event in my life added to my greater good. But reflection can sometimes take agonizing years before we reach a conclusion.
Then it occurred to me. Since I already possess enough proof everything is happening for my benefit, my life would change if I learned to appreciate ahead of time the gifts a difficult experience will give me. I can pay gratitude forward.
Developing the gratitude habit
You have the ability to choose the thoughts that will create a better reality, so rather than assume the worst from a situation, choose to feel grateful for it.
I am not saying paying gratitude forward is like anticipating opening presents on Christmas morning. It is simply knowing that something positive can come out of what you are experiencing. You act with the confidence there is a silver lining even before you perceive it.
I learned to do this, and it has made an enormous difference in my life. I start this process by identifying the potential benefits in an unexpected situation. Then I become grateful for them. Paying gratitude forward has a calming effect that reduces worry and stress.
Let’s take two small examples;
- You are training daily to run a marathon, but overnight a snowstorm left a foot of snow on the ground and you cannot train today. Although you may be disappointed for not being able to train, rather than complaining about what happened, you can choose gratitude for a day of extra rest for your body.
- You had been preparing hard for an important presentation in front of the boss. But on the eve of the meeting, he/she reschedules your presentation. Upsetting yes, but you can be grateful that this unexpected extra time will help you do other things, like better prepare your presentation, return emails or phone calls, follow up on another project, etc. Of course, you can alternatively choose to be angry or start worrying he/she did this out of disdain for you. The choice is yours.
Get the idea? Although it is not as easy to do this in more serious situations, paying gratitude forward can help. Let’s look at other situations,
- You discovered your best friend stole money from you. While it is natural to grieve the betrayal, you can opt to see this discovery as beneficial to you because you now know the true nature of the relationship. You can now make some changes.
- Let’s take the situation where a romantic partner broke up with you. This is painful, but there is no value in staying in a relationship with someone doubtful about their feelings for you. While this is difficult to see at first, you are fortunate to be able to move on and not waste more time with this person. You will also see that the lessons you learned from the relationship will help you pick a better future partner.
Paying gratitude forward may sound small and simplistic, but I assure you, every little positive step you take puts you on a path towards bliss and shortens your time in a state of stress and depression.
Handling difficult life challenges
It would be heartless and stupid to suggest we should be appreciative for the gifts we will receive from events like the loss of a child, divorce, bankruptcy, or a heart attack. It takes a great deal of time to heal the heartache caused by these events. But no amount of anger and resentment will bring your loved one back or return you to the old situation. All you can do is keep the faith you will emerge from this a new and wiser person who can still create a joyful life.
If you are a sexagenarian like me, then you have probably lived through many arduous times. Although new situations that present themselves may be different, you already have some idea of what you can do to help you get through them. Try paying gratitude forward just for having that knowledge.
Safe passage from tough challenges begins for me when I realize I am no longer tied to the beliefs, traditions and habits of my old life. It is only then I can welcome the freedom I have to redefine my life in any way I wish. Another lesson I have learned is that a Higher Consciousness will lead me towards a new beginning when I feel appreciative for the little things that come to me every day. This will also work for you.