Early Summer 2008
One of my friends has gone through a particularly trying year. Finances, health, and her primary relationship have all suffered. Additionally, there was a death in the family and she was uprooted and moved to a part of the country where there is little emotional support for her. In one year's time, she experienced a whole bushel-full of those life experiences that are hideously stressful and can wreak havoc with a person's sense of well-being. I'm pretty sure that if you asked her which of her 40-odd years she'd never want to live through again, it would be this past one.
I'm not very good at coming up with encouraging things to say to a friend who's experiencing such hard times. I listen, empathize as best I can, but feel lacking when it comes to finding words that might give her a second wind to keep on keeping on. My last email from her, though, revealed that she found, on her own, a silver lining to this mess of a year: gratitude.
No, she's not grateful for all of the dramas and crises she's gone through, but rather she's grateful for all of the things that have gone right. Yes, on some days she has to dig pretty deep to find something to be grateful for. Maybe it's seeing the sun when it hasn't shone in a few days. Or maybe it's having a cheerful customer service rep at the bank. Or maybe it's (remember, I said some days she has to dig pretty deep) having a car that starts every single time she turns on the ignition. She says it makes all the difference to be able to find positive things among all of the negatives. And while she probably would have chosen other ways to learn that gratitude is healing and can get a person through hard periods, she doubts that she would have ever realized this had she not faced such lousy times.
There is abundant research going on right now about the benefits of gratitude. Those who describe themselves as grateful tend to be less materialistic and are better able to roll with the punches when they are facing loss of status or possessions. Such people suffer less stress, have more vitality and optimism, and experience fewer instances of clinical depression than the population as a whole. Grateful people tend to appreciate the interconnectedness of life and are more spiritually aware, regardless of their religious affiliation. The list of benefits goes on and on -- from grateful people tending to take better care of themselves to having more optimism, which is an immune booster in and of itself!
While most of us might not go through the hard times that my friend has -- at least not all in the same year -- we will have days when we wish we'd never gotten out of bed. If we can just remember to find something to be grateful for amidst whatever crisis we are experiencing, it will not only help get us through the day, it will be a balm to our perspective. The best part, though, might be that gratitude simply becomes a way of life for us.