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Gratitude in Times of Difficulty
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2008

Life is Difficult. Life is Beautiful. And therein is the challenge to keep your balance.

Appreciating what you have when you feel you are losing so much is not easy but can be done with practice. Gratitude takes practice because we tend to focus on the big things which overwhelm us. When we are in that mode of thinking and feeling, we feel overwhelmed with gloom and depression.

These are the times that we must train ourselves to focus on the small and beautiful things in our lives. Life is in the details. Do not forget to pay attention to the details as you attend to your daily life. Keep your spirit alive. Keep your energy fueled. Do what you need to do throughout the day to maintain a level of awareness of the things and people in your life that are positive and who bring you joy. Bring joy to others as well.

Look into the eyes of people you interact with and smile. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, reminds us that sometimes your joy can be the source of your smile, and sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. The artist, Georgia O'Keefe, painted large canvases of small flowers. She also focused on the minute details of flower petals. By doing so, she encouraged the viewer to focus on the beauty in the things we often overlook. She reduced the size of large objects like mountains, making them smaller than life, simply because, in her view, we tend to see the big things at the expense of the small things.

Quieting yourself when in nature and listening to a birdsong, or to the ocean's waves, to the wind through the leaves, helps to bring you closer to your "center" giving you opportunities to practice gratitude (for your ability to hear the birdsong or breathe in the ocean air). We are helped enormously when we realize there is much to see and be grateful for in the small things around us that we ignore when we feel overwhelmed by the mountains in our lives.

Being grateful is more than saying thank you (although that is an important component, especially when you really mean it and offer it to the bus boy who clears your table in a restaurant, to the person who bags your groceries, or to your children for just being a part of the family). The key is to be grateful for what you have now, even if it is not all that you want. You can be satisfied AND want more. The two are not mutually exclusive. They can be held in balance. For most people, it is usually not things that bring them happiness. Of course we are happier when we have a feeling of safety and comfort, and during difficult times we may feel consumed about whether we will regain that which we lost (job, home, money.)

We can truly be grateful for what we have when we feel we have nothing. This means paying attention to that which we take for granted - our very life, the children we have in our lives, the ability to wake up every morning, to appreciate the magnificence of nature, to be moved by a song, to learn from someone wise who influenced us at some point along the way.

You always have the choice to be grateful. You can choose to focus on that which brings you joy or that which doesn't. This does not mean you ignore problems. It means that you will be better able to deal with them, be more resilient, more creative in figuring out solutions, and be healthier and calmer in the midst of a difficult time. Gratitude is a choice you CAN make.

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