It’s easy to feel grateful when things are going well. Thanks and appreciation pours from our lips with a kind of ease and brightness. But during tougher times, feeling grateful can be hard indeed. It’s easy to focus on what’s not good, what’s not going well, and on disappointments and regrets. And for many of our friends and patients, these last couple of years have offered up heaping servings of bad news, loss, boredom, and feelings of isolation and worry. Feeling grateful is difficult to access, it may feel remote or even irrelevant.
It’s during tough times that looking for and articulating gratitude is most important. Like any muscle, when you use your gratitude muscle, it grows and shifts your perspective, even when challenges abound. Here’s an invitation to take a few minutes today, or this week, or if you are gathering to celebrate the holiday, to say aloud the things you are grateful for. Take a moment, take a breath, and list out the blessings, large and small.
In my own gratitude practice, which I roll into a daily time of quiet and meditation, I often say the same things over and again: I am grateful for my family, for my health, for my home, for work that sustains me. But then I pull in something from my day. Today I added,I am thankful for the auburn leaves covering my yard, I am grateful for the sparkling pomegranate seeds I had with breakfast, I am thankful for these incredibly cozy worn-in boots, I am thankful I had the opportunity to work with a patient yesterday who taught me about unconditional love and the power of forgiveness. You can really be thankful for any thing! Sometimes we have to scrape the barrel to find something to be thankful for, but try it out. See what it feels like to try on some expressions of gratitude.
And sometimes if I am feeling a bit defeated by the news cycle or frustrated with the minutiae of taking care of forms or phone calls or paperwork, I will say to Paul, let’s do a gratitude circle. Right there, somewhere in the middle of the day, standing in the kitchen or on a walk, together we tick off all the many things for which we are grateful, and as we do that, the stress of the rest of life melts away, even just a little bit. It makes me feel renewed, and I can get back to whatever I was trying to do with more equanimity and patience. If you’d like more ideas about how to flex your gratitude muscle, here’s a piece to get the family or friends in on it, too!
I’m wishing you and your family a healthy, happy Thanksgiving, safe travels if you are hitting the road, scrumptious edibles if you are preparing or sharing a meal, and the company of those you hold dear. For those of you on your own this time of the year, and for all of us, may peace be in the air and may we all find gratitude in the lives we live.
See Dr. Rothenberg’s You Finished Treatment, Now What? A Field Guide For Cancer Survivors; available anywhere books are sold.