Good vibes only. Attitude of gratitude. Is it really possible that by focusing on what we have we can completely block out the negative side of life? Is it realistic? Aren’t people who are always smiling a little creepy and not to be trusted?
I was coaching a class recently, and the workout was miserable. It was over 90 degrees without A/C, and there were burpees involved. As a coach, I didn’t have anything encouraging to say. It was going to be a grueling day.
“I will be right here with you the whole time.” I offered my love and support before starting the clock.
About halfway through the workout, I looked at one of our female athletes. Both of her sons are away at college. She has lost a significant amount of weight and developed an intense passion for heavy deadlifts since joining our community. She has taken charge of her health and is making the second 50 years of her life the best yet.
I went over to check in with her in the midst of the sweaty show of fitness.
“Are you wondering why you pay someone to make you do this stuff?”
She laughed. “Actually, I just saw that man pass by outside pushing his walker. I thought how lucky I was to be in here suffering.”
Just like that, temporary discomfort became the gift we were taking for granted. I stopped and told the whole class about her observation. We all needed to hear it. We needed to live it. I was so thankful for the reminder.
I don’t know why I can’t seem to make this lesson stick permanently. I’m embarrassed that I need reminders. Many experts and life coaches recommend beginning our day by listing what we are grateful for. This practice allows us to flex our mental muscles. We need to continually practice an attitude of gratitude or it will go dormant.
My husband and I like to remind ourselves that if a big group of people threw all their problems in a pile, we would probably grab our own problems right back. We would not choose any problems other than our own. There would not be “better options” than ours. Our problems would be a dream to many people.
Dirty laundry? I have clothes to wear.
Dishes to wash? I just cooked a nutritious meal for my family.
Papers to grade? I have a career that I love.
I could keep going, but you get the point.
I return to the example set by the athlete in my class. She planted a seed in my mind to look for the ways I am lucky. Then just this week, as I had been bickering with my husband, I rode past a couple on the side of the road. The woman, bent over with a cigarette, was pushing a man in a wheelchair up a hill. He was holding a sign stating they were homeless and needed help. In that moment I took pause. Here I was arguing over insignificant life details with my healthy, strong husband— the father of my children. We have our health, our minds, our careers, our children and our entire lives together. We are not living in poverty or dependent on drugs, alcohol or confined to a wheelchair. WHAT is my problem?
Then yet another firm nudge from the universe came this week when I had lunch with a new friend. She is actually the sister of one of my best friends. We sat and laughed for a couple of hours talking books, life, motherhood, death and so much more. Our connection was immediate. She told a story that one day she was angry at her husband. When he walked in the house she looked at him and just thought, “That is the father of my child. Without him, I would not have my son.”
That simple thought was the only reminder she needed to get back on track. Suddenly, she was flooded with gratitude. Her perspective shifted to focus on what she was grateful for rather than what frustrated her. I live for those moments of epiphany— times when it just clicks. Perhaps the lesson was there all along, but we must be willing and able to receive it. Sadly, my default pulls me towards the negative, and I often miss the signs along the way. But I will keep practicing.
My mom raised me based on the scripture, “In all things give thanks.” Most spiritual teachings attempt to draw our mind towards gratitude. We rarely control the outcome, life is uncertain, but we can be grateful for the journey. So when I am stuck in traffic, I can remind myself to be grateful for personal transportation. When I am completing seven minutes of burpees, I can rejoice that my body is strong and capable of sweating through a workout. And when I wake in the morning, I can train my brain to first give thanks.