I don’t know many people who would argue against the value of giving thanks, so on the surface it would appear that I am simply preaching to the choir here. It’s easy to be thankful for all the blessings we have in our life like family, friends, health, food, shelter, etc. Expressing gratitude has also been linked to a plethora of benefits ranging from better mental and physical health, to improved relationships and productivity.
I recently entered gratitude into a search on Google and it returned 109,000,000 results, and I noticed a disturbing trend. Based on the top links that came back it appears that many people are using gratitude for selfish aims. Among the top links that came back on page one in my search were: “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About,” “Can Gratitude Make Millennials More Successful?” and “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude.”
In my experience, the only genuine practice of gratitude is when it is done to enrich others. In fact, in my regular practice of gratitude I specifically ask the recipient not to acknowledge it, but rather, if they feel compelled to respond, to send a similar message of gratitude to someone in their life OTHER THAN ME!
I believe that expressing gratitude for selfish reasons will eventually backfire in the same way I see general selfishness and greed eventually come back to bite people. It’s not always easy to do, but in the long run, helping others will fill you up a lot faster than only looking out for yourself.
Our society has become obsessed with results, to its detriment, in my humble opinion. I have found that the need for results makes those very results much less likely to occur. That’s why my focus is based primarily on process and purpose. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into process and purpose (but will in a future blog post) as I want to tackle another issue with how people practice giving thanks.
The other problem I have with the way people express gratitude is that they often focus on the easy things. If you have read my blogs before, you have likely seen me utter the phrase: ‘Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it” (although I now believe it’s more like 3% and 97%). I have personally found that once I learned to embrace the bad things that have happened to me, and to be grateful for them, it accelerated my growth exponentially.
As a child, I used to curse the fact that life was not fair and often felt sorry for myself. I think a big reason I felt this way was because my mother passed away two days before my fourth birthday. Regardless of the cause, all feeling sorry for myself did was make a bad situation even worse.
I eventually realized there was a positive side to losing my mom at a young age. It made me a more sensitive and empathetic person and those traits serve me to this day. I’m even grateful for all the people who bullied me or took advantage of me when I was down, for I would not have gained the valuable skills or knowledge I have, otherwise. These experiences forced me to learn how to problem solve at a young age and think on my feet. All of these traits and skills are vital to the work I do today.
In addition, I also suffered deep depression and anxiety after my mom passed away, but fighting those battles made me a better person. Though it took a lot longer than I would have liked, I like the person I am today.
Having said all of that, if I could choose, I would give up all of these benefits in a second to have my mother back for even a few days. But I can’t choose, so I have finally learned to play the cards I have been dealt in a forward looking way.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what would have or could have been. In my case it would be if my mother had lived. But those fantasies are filled with inaccuracies as they envision an idealized version of the person I am now, and the reality is I may have ended up being a completely different person. Perhaps even an entitled spoiled momma’s boy with very little compassion, for all I know.
If you want to accelerate your growth, learn to have gratitude for the things that you missed out on or that went wrong, as well as the things that went right, and when you choose to express it outwardly, do it to enrich others not to receive any benefits for yourself.
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