The Thanksgiving holiday is here and you may find yourself taking stock of your recent life experiences so you can answer the holiday-appropriate question, "what are you thankful for?"
When answering this question, it's common to hear people almost mindlessly rattle off the top 2-3 "good" things that come to their minds. "I'm thankful for my new car, steady employment, the trip to (wherever), a warm meal, a roof over head, friends and family, etc." You get the idea.
It makes perfect sense to be thankful for the things that seem to make your life easy and smooth. These things tend to give you relief from stresses or a cushion to pad the parts of life that seem rough. But the question I ask frequently of myself and others is whether or not you are holding them in the forefront of your thoughts or even looking for new things for which to be thankful throughout the day, so you remain in a thankful frame of mind? Unlikely!!!
In fact, Roy Baumeister, et al, of Case Western Reserve University conducted a study on the subject and the results were published in the Review of General Psychology back in 2001 showing that people are much more likely to be focused on and remember negative experiences or even project their minds to the negative outcomes of future events across a wide range of psycho-social phenomena.
This means that the vast majority of people go through their lives focused on experiences that hold a predominantly negative place in their memories! This is a challenging situation for even the most balanced among us! No wonder there is so much interpersonal turmoil, psychological unrest and general unhappiness in the world today. I'm certainly not suggesting that people are aiming to be unhappy, but they are definitely allowing themselves to remain pointed in the opposite direction of happiness!
So, if you want to get on the happiness train, but you are predominantly focused on the negative aspects of life, it seems like a losing proposition every time. It's NOT! This is where gratitude/thankfulness steps in to save the day.
Thankfulness is a powerful director towards happiness. One expert, Dr. Robert A. Emmons, would say it's not just a guide towards happiness but the source itself. The big question is where and when can you allow yourself to be grateful. We've already established that gratitude flows freely to the things that make life smooth and easier, but what about everything in life that you labeled as "bad" or "difficult"? Where do these land on your scale of thankfulness (if at all)?
Wouldn't it be interesting to hear someone say, "I'm so grateful that my car broke down" or "I'm thankful that I just lost my job"? I'm sure if you said either of these over dinner, you'd get some questions related to your own sanity because few are able to see through the seemingly blatant incongruence.
How can you possibly go from complete dissatisfaction in something to being thankful for it?
The answer begins with your willingness to let go of your own limitations related to right or wrong, good and bad. These are relative terms that can have vastly different meanings from person to person. Like hot and cold. Your "bad" is likely someone else's "good". Secondly, you need to recognize that what you now perceive as unwanted is (in its opposite) the sign post for what you really want and it is guiding you toward it. Finally, you must know to your core that things will move in the direction of your focus and desire.
To put these steps into action can be difficult for some because of their addiction to how "bad" things are, but they are powerful for shifting your reality if applied.
Here's an example to help you understand the idea. Let's say you're experiencing a health challenge that is limiting you somehow; something simple like a head cold. Most people begin with, "I feel miserable and this is horrible", when in fact a cold is not that great of a challenge to most people. Feeling ill highlights the deep desire for health and wellness. They might stay in self-pity longer than necessary when they could be thinking, "this cold might offer me the excuse I have been looking for to take it easy a couple of days and rest!". This directs them to get in bed and focus on rest and recovery. The typical end result is a full recovery and renewed energy to put into life's creative endeavors. In this simplistic scenario most people follow the steps above without even knowing they're doing it.
The link to happiness is to review the experience and come to the obvious conclusion that you are actually grateful for the experience because it offered you what you wanted, and in this case you were more or less forced to accept it.
The true master of this begins to feel grateful while he is still in the heart of the experience knowing that something better is going to result! This ultimately leads to a feeling of excitement and anticipation for ALL experiences since they will inevitably offer something for which to give thanks.
What a happy feeling it is to look forward to all life has to offer!
Happy Thanksgiving (in all things)!