I recently came upon an electronic letter I’d written my daughter 15 years ago in which I expressed my gratitude for gratitude. Although I’d read and heard messages about the power and importance of gratitude, I noted in the letter that I hadn’t really “gotten it.” I’d been spending way too much time worrying about the past and future, an activity that was stealing my joy – my appreciation for beautiful moments, acts of kindness, and loving relationships.
Worrying is different than preparing for the future. Worrying is about wishing what happened hadn’t happened and wishing what might happen won’t. It’s thinking about what has gone wrong and could go wrong instead of figuring out how to make amends for a past regret or planning for a better tomorrow. Planning is proactive and makes me feel hopeful. Worrying stifles hope and diverts me from my goals.
Forgiveness is about letting go of that stubborn desire for a different past, acknowledging “it is what it is,” and creating an innovative path forward. When I’m faced with a painful situation, I remind myself that I cannot hide from or deny my hurt and sadness. Life is not going according to Plan A and I must problem solve and craft a Plan B. But if all I feel is despair or anger, my ability to construct a new story is hampered by a lack of positive energy. I need to light the path ahead with the fuel I receive from gratitude.
Gratitude is a powerful force that can allow what is good and kind in our lives to break through the clouds of bitterness and regret. Gratitude clears out the negative thoughts that are blinding us to the beauty in life and possibilities for a bright future; a future in which we can let go of the excessive shame or anger that is harming our bodies and our souls.
Sometimes I’m just grateful that I missed a near car accident or caught myself before saying something really stupid. Simple things can fill me with gratitude, such as homemade chocolate chip cookies and cute animal videos. When I’m going through a tough time, I’m especially appreciative of nature. Hiking and biking on lovely trails, especially if it’s a sunny, warm day, fills me with awe and the awareness of a power greater than myself. Music calms and inspires me. I love singing, dancing, and playing the piano. Beautiful harmonies and the joining together of different instruments and voices lifts me up. I’m especially grateful for my connections with supportive people who guide me to my higher self and help me find peace.
When I’m hurting, I need hope. Why go through all that forgiveness work of understanding my pain, trying to be compassionate and kind, and finding a way to let go of what is burdening me if I believe it’s impossible? Gratitude helps me believe things can get better because I’ve opened my eyes to the goodness and beauty that life contains. There is darkness and there is light. They can exist at the same time, and the light will lead me through the darkness.
Taking time to be grateful is like a vacation from shame, regret, anger, and bitterness. Counting blessings instead of worries allows my mind to divert from a path going nowhere. It shines a new light on my fears and gives me fresh perspectives. I can create a story in which I overcome thoughts and emotions that are binding me to a bleak past. My story becomes one of optimism and transformation. And yours can be too.