Gratefulness Saves Us
“Just one more.”
These were the words given to a very important question.
Perhaps one of the most important questions.
The question was,
“How much is enough?”
And the interviewee was then President Donald Trump.
Back when he was only known as a billionaire tycoon making dollar after dollar, Donald Trump was asked,
“Just how much is enough?”
He calmly and thoughtfully responded,
“Just one more dollar.”
In order to live without the constant fear, anxiety, and busyness that has become all too common in our country and culture,
in order to avoid the same ramifications we’ve already seen including:
- The majority of marriages falling apart
- Nearly half of the American population on or considering anti-anxiety medication
- poverty, hatred, and division all around us
If we want to break these troubling cycles and find a measure of deep, persevering peace in our lives,
we must learn to trust a power greater than our own.
In continuing our series on learning to trust a power greater than ourselves, we have discussed:
- being honest with ourselves about our view of God or our higher power
- we have begun practicing the very fine art of slowing down and being still
- and we are working to accept our life, our circumstances, and ourselves as we are over a false idealized reality.
Today we add one of the most crucial stages to trust:
Also known as gratitude.
Ok now, let’s all do one collective eye roll at Kurtis. Ready?
I know, we’ve heard it a million times. There are entire conferences and movements based solely on the idea of gratefulness. And even if it’s been a while since we sat through one of those cliche, totally unhelpful sermons about it, everyone at one point or another heard this super helpful phrase:
“YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL!”
Whether or not the intent was good in nature, any time someone starts a sentence with “you should be” or “you need to be” the only thing we remember is the guilt and the pressure to be better, do better, or try harder.
Forget all that.
Six months ago I lost one of the most important people in my life.
Her name was Diana Latham.
She was a mother to me (an additional mother considering I have a great biological one).
She passed away after nearly a year of painful, tragic triple-negative breast cancer.
There are many lessons I have learned from this beautiful mom to many, and as our journey continues together you will undoubtedly hear more of them, but today I will only share one.
Every night just before going to bed, Diana would practice gratefulness.
She would take out the same little notebook and she would write 3 things that came her way that day that she was grateful for.
It could be time with her family or a kind word from a friend. It could be a chance encounter with a new friend or more likely with a new friends dog (that’s how she often met her neighbors was by meeting their dog first on her walks!)
Whatever it was, whether it was a blessed day and she had to sift through all of them to choose 3, or if it was a really difficult day leaving her to dig deep, she always put three.
She was one of the most grateful, and therefore gracious, people I will ever know.
There is some incredible research done in the world of neuroscience when it comes to gratefulness (if you can’t tell by now I LOVE talking about neuroscience).
Recent research has shown that our brains operate in two ways.
When it comes to negativity, when we think about something that aggravates us, upsets us, or just plain grinds on our nerves,
these frustrating or negative thoughts stick to our brains immediately.
Negative thoughts are like velcro.
And they take some work to pull them off, most often still leaving side effects.
However, things like gratefulness, joy, calm, happiness, and blessings do not stick.
In fact, they slip right off because
Positive thoughts turn our brain into Teflon.
So if our brains are hardwired to receive and hold negativity and scarcity, but let go of gratefulness like it’s leaving a bad family reunion,
what do we do about it?
Studies are showing that in order for gratefulness, gratitude, peace, joy, and all the other thoughts and feelings that make us glad to be alive,
in order for them to make a lasting impression on our brains and become a part of who we are
We have to let it marinate.
It takes the brain 15 full seconds of concentration to fully grasp thoughts of gratefulness.
In other words, if we don’t intentionally practice it gratefulness will immediately slip from our grasp.
In order to be happy, we have to practice gratefulness
But don’t take my word for it,
I started practicing intentional gratefulness years ago after learning of Diana’s routine. And since then I really have found more peace, joy, and gratefulness for all that is in my life, even though many things have gotten “worse” in some ways.
I have within me an unexplainable love and deep appreciation for my wife, my job, my sometimes annoying dog, my unexplainable and sometimes difficult personality.
I am peacefully grateful for the money in my bank account, the food on my table, and even for the moments of sitting on the couch watching football all day for the seventeenth Saturday in a row.
Ok, there aren’t even that many weeks of football but you get the point.
So this week, and hopefully a lot longer moving forward, take a bit of beautiful advice from one of my mothers.
1. Get yourself a little notebook.
2. Write down 3 things from that day that you are grateful for every night.
There’s power in saying it out loud. It makes things tangible and real once they are out of your head and in the air. There’s even more power in putting it down in permanent ink.
3. Then sit for 30-60 seconds just dwelling on those 3 things
You can even dwell on just one of them,
For more on the science and spirituality behind this, check out the Center for Action and Contemplation with Father Richard Rohr
Don’t give in to the idea that to have enough you need just a little more.
That way of thinking not only keeps you from seeing what is already right in front of you,
but it hinders you from ever grasping joy and peace, no matter how much you have.
When we truly see what has been given to us—whether given by God, by the universe, or just by luck—it changes our brain to see that
life hasn’t been all that bad to us.
Tragedy and pain are still unavoidable.
I no longer have Diana’s love and presence in my life,
But I had her for 9 years,
and that is pretty damn blessed.