"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Grateful people are happy people

By on October 28, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments

The trick is learning how to feel fortunate in this critical world

By June Darling

Years ago, I took a trip with a friend. 

After we reached our destination and had dinner, she called her husband. 

“Oh, honey, you would love this place. It’s right on the river. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. There was a huge bouquet of flowers on an Italian marble table in the hotel entry. The dinner, I had prime rib, was so tender I could cut it with a fork! I am so grateful to be here. We must come back together sometime.”

I started looking around and thinking. 

What I was preparing to tell my husband was all about the sweltering heat, dirty marks on the hotel’s carpet, that we had to wait 20 minutes to be seated, and that my salad had nothing on it but croutons. He was lucky he wasn’t here I was going to say.

We were in the same place — pretty much seeing and sensing the same events and having a totally different experience. It was mind-blowing. Unnerving.

To be honest, I had always thought of this friend as something of a Pollyanna type who sees the world unrealistically, through rose-colored glasses. 

But here’s the problem. What she said was accurate. The hotel WAS on the water. The rooms WERE big. There was a large arrangement of flowers on a marble table. We could cut the meat with a fork. It was all true. 

Listening to her conversation provoked me to start working differently with my attention; that effort continues and it makes a huge difference in the quality of my life.

My friend had used her attention differently than I had. She had focused on things that brought her pleasure and made her feel fortunate for the experience. 

I had only focused on things that disgusted me and made me miserable. 

If you read my October article, you are probably saying, “June, it’s all about you getting stuck in the negativity bias.” 

You’d be right, but there’s more. It’s also about figuring out how to work with attention, how to do a panorama, how to zoom in and out to experience a fuller awareness. 

Many wonderful things begin to happen when we successfully play with our lens on life. Here’s one of the big delights that follows… increased gratitude. 

By now, everyone has heard of the benefits of gratitude, but in case you’ve been out of touch, researchers have found that gratitude is associated with better physical health, better sleep, higher self-esteem, better relationships, better mental health and improved empathy for example. 

Grateful people are happy people who are truly living the good life. 

Researchers have also given some ideas about how to be more grateful. There is the practice of noticing good things and keeping gratitude journals that I’ve mentioned before and now do routinely. 

Brother David Steindl-Rast, who is now 93 and an expert on the practice of gratitude, offers us more — a concept he calls “grateful living.” 

Grateful living is about believing — trusting — that when you zoom in and out and around with your attention, you will find an opportunity, a blessing, a gift. All the time. 

What keeps us from finding these opportunities? 

Maybe it’s that we’re simply not looking with expectant eyes. Maybe we haven’t even stopped to look around at all. Maybe fear gets in our way. Maybe we have a hard time trusting that life is always bringing us good stuff even when things don’t seem so good.

That all makes sense, but sometimes I still have problems with my attention. 

Gratitude and mindfulness researchers and teachers say that’s to be expected. 

The mind must develop metaphorical muscles to look around, wonder away, come back. 

That’s the big gig, learning to bring focus back to where you want it. 

Sometimes that all sounds like a lot of work to me. One of those days was yesterday. I just seemed blah, worried, fearful. For good cause I guess. My husband and I were at a transition point: Should we remodel our 36-year-old house or should we move? 

A very sticky wicket that led to all sorts of dead ends, literally. 

It seemed impossible to just focus and get out of my head, to live gratefully, to trust — to believe in an opportunity.

I re-read Brother David’s book, A Good Day. Then I watched A Good Day on YouTube. Listening to Brother David speak, seeing the images, reading his words helped.

Begin by opening your
eyes and be surprised that you
have eyes you can open….

I’ll just cut toward the bottom line and say it worked. 

When I took a walk, remembered Brother David’s encouragement to live gratefully, kept bringing my attention back to intentionally zooming in and out and around to the beauty all around me, allowing gratitude to fill me up; I returned with a full bucket and lots of ideas for solving our concerns.

November, the month of Thanksgiving, is the perfect month for us to learn how to more fully open our eyes and hearts to notice the incredible gifts we have been given. 

Yes, let’s continue using our gratitude journals to recount the good stuff. 

Let’s also hang out with and listen to people who can see things we cannot yet see. 

And then, why not play with this idea of living gratefully — taking a break, looking around, believing, trusting, being open to the idea that there is always an opportunity waiting for us in every event and encounter. 

Our life might go to a whole new level. 

Brother David, begins to close his meditation on a good day with these lines:

Let the gratefulness overflow
into blessing all around you….

What about that? What if we so overflowed with gratitude that we were not just healthy and happy and creative, but became a force for blessing all around us? Imagine.

How might we become more fully aware, live gratefully, and move up to The Good Life?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. 

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