-by Bill Plake-
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me, if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”
– Brené Brown
The past year or so has been one of the most challenging periods in my life so far. Lots of setbacks, losses and disappointments.
Many of these changes are things that normally occur as you approach my age, so I can’t complain. But I just wasn’t expecting so many of them to converge all at once.
Feeling a bit more overwhelmed each day, I was beginning to lose that once familiar sense of well being that used to energize and motivate me. I was still living a disciplined and productive life, but I wasn’t really “feeling it” like I used to.
So I started to ask myself what I was lacking. Not so much in terms of my material possessions and life circumstances, but in my attitude and perspective.
I was longing for a particular underlying feeling I always seemed to have when I was experiencing enjoyment. It didn’t matter if that enjoyment was subtle and low-key, or loud and exuberant. In either case, I used to easily be able to feel something that I just couldn’t seem to access these days.
After some reflecting and researching I came to realize that the essential missing element in my life was gratitude.
That’s it. It was so simple. And it made sense, too.
I had been spending most of my time these past few months focusing on what I didn’t have. Focusing on what I’d lost or what was lacking in my life. Troubled by recent past events, and worried about an uncertain future, I’d lost sight of the “right now” part of my life.
I came to this revelation while thinking about my mother, who, despite facing enormous adversity and tragedy throughout lots of her life, was nearly always in a state of internal peace and happiness, no matter what came her way.
And in picturing that familiar glow in her eyes, it dawned on me that what really lit her up like that was her deep sense of gratitude.
No matter the problem or setback, she would always easily find something to say about what she was grateful for. This typically included other people in her life. She was always genuinely and deeply grateful for the good fortunes of other people. And not just for her family and friends, but for any good news for others out in the world.
Small, common, almost unnoticeable things would fill her heart with joy and wonder. “The extraordinary quality of ordinary things”, she once said to me.
My meditation on this precious memory of my mother set off a seismic shift in my own perspective. I began gradually to stop wishing for what I didn’t have (and couldn’t have!) Instead, I returned to cherishing life exactly as it comes to me, moment to moment, day by day.
There are so many great riches to experience and celebrate! My work, my family and friends, my internal life, my physical fitness, my creative pursuits. Every day is a feast, if I make myself available to it.
It was probably no small coincidence that just a few days after this revelation I stumbled upon a book that scientifically supported my discovery.
It’s ostensibly a book about research into Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is ultimately about how to live life more successfully, at any age.
It’s called Living With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Living Longer, Healthier and More Meaningful Lives. Written by, David Snowden, it is an informative and uplifting story about how the quality our health is profoundly impacted by our attitude and actions in life.
In the Nun Study, Snowden (an epidemiologist) spends years interviewing and compiling data on a population of nuns living in Minnesota who are, collectively, living unusually long and successful (healthful, active and independent) lives.
The “Sisters” share many qualities of lifestyle and attitude that the author, through formal scientific investigation, correlates to their robust longevity: curiosity, intellectual pursuit, faithfulness, compassion, discipline…
But one quality emerges above the others.
All the sisters, no matter age, health or other circumstance, are profoundly grateful for the life they’ve chosen and for the work they’ve done. Snowden beautifully documents this in his writing, giving the reader a sense of the Sister’s joy in daily living.
There is ritual and celebration in even the most mundane aspects of their everyday activities. And their love for each other is abundant and obvious.
Feeling connected to each other is an essential component of the rich state of consciousness that appears to be their norm. Any of us would be lucky to have lived such a deeply satisfying life.
The biggest gift I’ve received from the challenges of this past year has been to see so clearly that peace and contentment don’t have to be elusive, unpredictable and fleeting. Now I realize that this beautiful state of being is available to me at any moment.
And equally important, it is available to you, too! It’s just a matter of paying attention to things a certain way (like Brené Brown said). Making yourself available to the light that is already in your life.
So give yourself time to reflect upon your own riches, your own triumphs, large and small. Take note of the things in the present moment that make you happy, that give you meaning. (Make a list, if it helps you.)
Take joy in the blessings of others. If you can cultivate even half of the delight my mother had in hearing other people’s good news, you’d be a truly wealthy person.
It’s all a matter of choice. And you can choose to begin right now. So cultivate gratitude. Put it into practice any chance you get. Like a good meal, let is nourish you, body and soul.
Photo by <a href=”/photographer/hayna-54731″>Hannah Elizabeth Condon</a> from <a href=”https://freeimages.com/”>FreeImages</a>