A flood of articles, blog posts, and inspirational memes has washed the internet in the importance of gratitude, and rightly so. The world’s happiest and most successful people share this “Attitude of Gratitude” and their smiling faces are all over social media as advertisements for this secret to success. Social media encourages us to “find something every day to be grateful for” or “give thanks for one thing each morning” or “tell at least one person how much you appreciate them today”. I can tell you from personal experience that this is excellent advice. Gratitude truly can bring happiness and contentment as it guides our attention to the positivity in each day rather than the seemingly negative experiences that can bring us down. And there is so much more available to us!
The next level of gratitude is finding the tidbits to be thankful for when obstacles prevent us from reaching the summit or one too many mechanical mishaps keep us from finishing the ride we planned. When the shit stacks up against us and negative thinking come in, I stop to ask, “What can I be thankful for?” The answer to this question may not come easily. One way to gain altitude over a seemingly negative situation can be to imagine oneself on the other side of the experience. We often think about the worst possible outcome; that it will never stop raining, there will never be enough, the clouds – literal or metaphorical – will never pass. Instead, consider the best way that things could resolve. After all, if we’re going to speculate and fantasize about the future, we may as well win in our own fantasy!
There are so many times when a situation seems absolutely terrible, and it ends up being a positive experience. I once had to cut a ride short after a series of flat tires only to run into a friend on the long walk home and have the opportunity to catch up over a burrito. Then there was the time when I missed a flight, had to spend the night in a city that was neither my home nor my destination, and then got bumped up to first class the following morning. Even divorce, illness, abuse, and other unthinkable experiences come with their share of blessings. Silver linings are all around us, especially when we’re open to them, and even more so when we’re actively looking for them.
The blessings in our lives are practice. Our lives are filled with moments that bring forward gratitude: sunsets, flowers, puppies, the smell of nourishing food, the flow of single track after a rain. These moments are proof of our ever-present blessings. Feelings of gratitude that come with ease serve as training for us to find the gratitude that is harder to come by. We know the feeling of gratitude and the certainty of our blessings when they are easily recognized. The key is maintaining that certainty – knowing that there is a blessing to be found – when the blessing is in disguise. If we are sure that there is a blessing in every situation, then we will find it.
When we experience pain and the deep illusion of separation, our task is to begin the search for opportunity. Knowing that the blessing exists is integral to finding it. If every single situation had something for us, what would it be? What lesson is available to us? What opportunities for growth may come of this temporary difficulty? Asking ourselves these questions and searching for their answers can be the greatest challenge, and can bring forward the most profound healing. It can be the first step to viewing life through a lens that allows everything that we experience to be for us.
The daily practice of expressing gratitude deepens our knowing that the blessings already are. We take that gratitude to the next level when we search for an opportunity that isn’t easily found. Therein lies the depth of gratitude that sustains us from the inside out.