When I reflect on my life, the proof is irrefutable; even the most painful events introduced a benefit that helped shape me into who I truly am. I will not experience again the same level of emotional pain I suffered the day I saw my parents disappear into the horizon as the plane I was on sped towards Miami from Havana, Cuba. Starting my American life as an orphan in a Colorado orphanage was rough. Yet, this event catapulted my life into the miracle of hope and opportunity it is today.
My most recent life transition—ushered in by divorce, unemployment and relocation to a new place—opened the door to 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 am today.
I am sure that if you reflect on your own life, you will find a similar pattern. Sure, you didn’t reach a place of gratitude right away, but eventually you found good things emerged out of the worst of situations.
Paying gratitude forward
Our propensity as humans is to receive gifts first before we express gratitude. With life events, we need time and perspective to define those gifts before we feel grateful. This is good, for perspective has given me the wisdom to understand the purpose every lesson, person and event added to my greater good. But reflection can sometimes take agonizing years before completing.
Not wanting to spend my remaining years in reflection, I thought,
“Since I already possess enough proof that everything is happening for my benefit, how would my life change if I learned to appreciate ahead of time the gifts a difficult experience will give me?”
This is like the concept of paying it forward; doing something kind for someone today in “payment” for the kindness you will someday receive. I am suggesting the same can apply for gratitude; become appreciative for the gifts you will be getting from an experience before you know what they are.
Developing the gratitude habit
You have the ability to choose the thoughts that will create a better reality, so rather than assume the worst in a situation, choose to feel grateful for it.
I am not saying paying gratitude forward for the gifts you will receive is like anticipating opening presents on Christmas morning. It is simply appreciating something positive can come out of what you are experiencing. You act knowing there is a silver lining before you see it.
I learned to do this, and it has made a big difference in my life. I start this process by identifying the possible benefits in an unexpected situation. 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 snow storm 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 pissing and moaning about it, you can choose to feel 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. Disappointing yes, and you can choose to be angry or start worrying he/she out of disdain for you, or you can feel grateful that this unexpected extra time will help you to better prepare, return emails or phone calls, follow up on another project, etc. The choice is yours.
Get the idea? Although it is not as easy to do this on more serious situations, the paying gratitude forward can help. Let’s take a 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 it this discovery as beneficial to you because you now know the true nature of the relationship and move on.
- Let’s take the situation where a romantic partner broke up with you. I am familiar with this situation, so I understand how much this hurts, but I learned to see this as a blessing. There is no value being in a relationship with someone doubtful about their feelings for you. You are fortunate to be able to move on and not waste any more time with this person. You can also hope that the lessons you learned from the relationship will help you pick a better future partner.
This sounds small and simplistic, I know, but every little positive step takes 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 time to heal the heartache one experiences from these events. Eventually, however, you will emerge from the grieving process a new and wiser person who can create a joyful life despite this terrible loss. You will never get your loved one back or return to the old situation, so it is difficult to think you will ever feel gratitude for the event. But getting through the grieving process can make you appreciate the person you have become. This is often the silver lining.
If you are a sexagenarian like me, then you have probably lived through many difficult times before. Although new situations may be different, you can appreciate forward the things you know how to do that will help you get through them.
Safe passage from difficult challenges begins for me when I realize I am no longer tied to the beliefs, traditions and habits of my old life. It is then I can appreciate the freedom I have to redefine my life in any way I wish to create. I have suffered enough difficult life transitions to know a Higher Consciousness will lead me towards a new beginning if I can feel appreciative for the little things that come to me every day. This will also work for you.
As always, wishing you a life filled with joy, love and serenity.