This is not my first posting on the topic of gratitude. I recently reviewed one from November 2006 http://drstevenhodes.typepad.com/meta_physician/2006/10/healing_power_o.html It was rather long and involved. After reading it I recall the raw feelings it engendered, so close to the death of my mother and the near-death of my father.
But truths don't fade away. I regard the conscious awareness of what is positive in our lives as an antidote to much of the suffering we experience. By conscious awareness I mean an active decision to remember what we should be grateful for.
Worry and negativity is the human default position. The 24 hour news cycle floods our minds with fear and anxiety. Iinstant access to information from the internet is predominantly dark and foreboding. It is difficult not to exist in the grip of fear and despair.
I know someone whose life seems nearly flawless–great spouse, great job, no financial worries, adult children and grandchildren who seems fine. Yet she cannot avoid the overwhelming fear that disaster is just around the corner for someone or something she loves. At times this feeling impairs her ability to enjoy the blessings she has.
It was perhaps necessary for survival purposes that our ancestors ponder the potential disaster around the bend. For most of our existence as a species, those who prepared for trouble had a better chance to survive. Therefore the "worriers" passed on their genetic tendencies to us.
The problem for many of us is that the default position to "go negative" clouds our consciousness on an on-going basis and impairs our ability to enjoy life on any level.
Only by an act of willful remembering are we capable of attaining a state of consciousness in which we enumerate what makes us glad to be alive. And it is not about comparing ourselves with anyone else. It should be our own private and deeply personal list.
Notice how we slip in and out of despair. When our minds are attending to something beautiful and joyous, our sadness evaporates. When we recall the pain, the suffering cascades over us once again. Realize that all that has occurred is within our minds. Nothing changed about the "facts" of our lives. Did experience that suffering help us or anyone else? Most likely not. In truth it may have harmed us. Chronic, unremitting stress can lead to our own impaired immunity. Our own ability to live our lives can suffer.
The Buddhists speak of our own suffering as a teaching for us. We can learn to empathize with the suffering of our fellow beings. We can learn compassion and share that connection with others who suffer.
Find the courage to enumerate the good in the face of these overwhelming feelings. Viktor Frankel in Man's Search For Meaning claimed his ability to survive the brutality and degradation of the Nazi death camps because of his stubborn insistence on finding one reason to go on living. There were many in his position who gave up and perished.
Be prepared to feel different as you enumerate what is good in your life. Even one good friend is enough. Even one beautiful, sunlit day should suffice. Waking up each day to the possibility of new experiences and the potential to share the world with another human being is all one needs.
Think about the word "savor". It refers to being present in the moment when we experience enjoyment. We often rush through eating, regarding nature, greeting another human being. Savor the moment. Be grateful for it.
The state of serenity we all seek, called happiness by some, requires that we attend to that in our lives to which we are grateful. Do this every morning.
The world is created anew in every moment. Gratitude can help us create a better one for ourselves and for those around us.