“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls” ~ Aesop
“Ingratitude is monstrous” ~ Shakespeare
I’m convinced there is no characteristic more important to your happiness than gratitude. To be insanely grateful is to develop gratitude to the point that it becomes a fundamental characteristic of who you are, independent of circumstance.
Being insanely grateful is being grateful for the trials as much as the blessings because there is a recognition that the trials are blessings in disguise, shaping and molding us into better people.
Gratitude on Steroids
Gratitude, as an ingredient to a happy life, is more than simply feeling thankful to someone for holding an elevator door as you trip and stumble over bags and kids toward it. It’s more than thanking someone for giving you directions or passing the gravy or complimenting you on your choice of deodorant.
Radical gratitude reaches far beyond someone doing you a nice turn. It extends into personality and character. It extends into situations normally not associated with it, even to situations seemingly diametrically opposed to it.
Gratitude is a gift you offer those who have made the effort to be kind. It’s a tribute to goodness and human decency. It’s also an expression of who you are and how you think about the world.
Gratitude at its highest form is an attitude, a general mindset and way of looking at life that concentrates our gaze on all that’s good, even when things are otherwise troubling.
It’s not enough to be sporadically grateful. It’s not enough to be circumstantially grateful. Not if you want to experience the depth of joy and happiness that comes from an insanely grateful life. Nearly everyone is grateful from time to time and under circumstances that elicit it.
But for gratitude to profoundly rework your happiness, to change you and lift you and fill your heart, it needs to become a reflection of a grateful inner core, a spontaneous reaction to life regardless of its ebbs and flows.
Think about the ingrate. He is thankless, takes people and events and all the amazing wonders of modern life for granted. That is no recipe for happiness.
But gratitude focuses our thoughts on what is good and uplifting.
It is opportunity oriented.
It sees the roses on the thorn bush.
It foresees the spring in the middle of winter, grateful the snow will one day water the yet unseen blossoms.
It identifies benefits derived from challenge.
It feels the joy of improvement in the pain of growth.
It experiences the love of children even when they are not particularly loveable.
It sees that struggle is pregnant with opportunity and insight.
Some of you will likely come from negative families, where the ugly and negative were talked about and complained about and pointed out and focused on.
Those who grew up in such environments have likely been conditioned to see right past the praiseworthy to the complain-worthy instead.
Here’s the good news: Regardless of your history, insane gratitude can become a very active part of your life. It is, in other words, a learnable habit of thought and attitude, something similar to learning to ride a bike or play piano. It can be developed, even in the hearts of the most ungrateful amongst us.
Developing Radical Gratitude
So just how do you learn radical gratitude (and therefore experience radical happiness)?
Gratitude, to tell the truth, is not rocket science. To develop an insane sense of gratitude, you simply have to go looking for it.
It really is that simple. If you’re not habituated to counting your blessings, we can simply start to count them.
But it’s admittedly difficult to feel gratitude for someone or something you take for granted. Arrogance and pride and selfishness and an entitlement mentality all rob us of the virtue of gratitude.
Working on these characteristics by developing their opposite is a necessary step to living with radical gratitude.
Here’s how I personally and accidentally stumbled into it …
My Gratitude Story
I’m a religious guy. My faith means a lot to me. In that context, I remember nearly thirty years ago when I was still a young man trying to develop a more reliable spiritual life. I had a roommate I greatly admired and noticed his prayers were extremely long.
I figured that since his prayer life helped define his spiritual awesomeness, and his prayers lasted hours, I ought to give these marathon mega prayers a shot myself.
So one evening I knelt to pray with the commitment to pray for an hour. But just a few minutes into the prayer, I ran out of words to say. How did this guy pray for hours?
After I was done asking for this and that, requesting blessings for him and her, I couldn’t think of anything else to add. I went blank.
Then a thought came to me: I decided to start thanking God for everything I could think of. How else was I to fill the time? I did have a role model I was trying to follow and a goal I was trying to reach, after all!
So after expressing gratitude for all the normal stuff, I thanked God for the sun and moon and stars as well.
I thanked Him for my life and health, of course, but added other specifics like my eyelashes (imagine the dust-filled itchiness of eyelash-less lids) and hair (I had enough to thank Him for back then).
I expressed gratitude for limbs and toes and fingers and the ability to grasp things and pass things and toss things and clap and high five and shake hands.
I expressed gratitude for flowers and color (naming each color I was thankful existed) and beaches and mountains and music and children and air and toothpaste.
Then I thanked God for the people who made toothpaste and computers and paper and coat hangers and sticky-notes.
I went on to explain how thankful I was for the strength my dad imparted to me and the love my mom exemplified. I thanked Him for everything I could think of and explained why I was grateful for them. I went on for what seemed minutes but turned out to be over an hour.
When I looked at the glowing numbers on the alarm clock, I smiled, sort of self-satisfied, and curled up under my covers to go to sleep, pleased that I had reached my goal and was now well on my way to super-spiritualdom!
It was about then that my friend lifted his head from his pillow on the other side of the room. He rolled over and sleepily mumbled a goodnight, then said something to the effect of, “Dude, you’re awesome! I wish I could pray that long.”
“What?!” I answered. “You are why I prayed that long. Your prayers blow mine out of the water!”
He laughed (I should have laughed for thinking so superficially of prayer).
Then he explained.
What I had been seeing every single night, was him kneeling on his bed, his head on his pillow to pray. Almost immediately, however, he would fall asleep, butt sticking up, knees on his bed, and head still on his pillow in a pseudo-praying position.
He would remain asleep for an hour or two, wake up, climb under his covers and go back to sleep!
I had been inspired by a false impression!
I laughed at the thought.
Then another thought, a reverent thought, settled in. I realized that I had discovered something profoundly powerful and powerfully profound.
As I tried to fill my prayers with words, running out of them, then turning to expressions of gratitude just to reach my goal, to stretch the prayer to fit the time, I came to realize that I was also reprogramming my brain to look at life differently.
Over time, I began to see beauty much more readily than I did before. I was discovering that the more I named my blessings, thinking about and expressing all the things that made life wonderful, things I had never really consciously thought about before, literally naming them one by one, I was growing more grateful, feeling more grateful, recognizing more around me truly worthy of my gratitude.
Gratitude was working its way deep down into the core of who I was. I had become a more spontaneously grateful person. Not only was I remembering all the good of the day retrospectively as I recalled them in prayer, I was also starting to automatically view the world through the lens of gratitude throughout the day.
Gratitude was becoming much less an end-of-the-day activity on my knees as it was a throughout-the-day activity I was constantly engaged in, attitudinally expressing, moment by moment, in real time.
Burdens became less burdensome. I noticed much more of the wonder and opportunity in life than ever before because I came to realize there was always a positive context to every problem.
Pain became something I experienced, for sure, but no longer engulfed the moment. It was there, but was only part of a larger context of something other than the pain.
It was a life-changing experience. My happiness seemed to increase exponentially.
You can develop that same changed mindset as well, whether by making formal gratitude lists or filling prayers with nothing but thanks or informally being more aware of life’s joys and blessings. The point is to regularly count, label, list or express your thanks for an ever-increasing array of life’s blessings.
Gratitude, like other attitudinal traits, takes practice. It requires consistent reprogramming of your brain until it becomes a natural, automatic response to life’s circumstances. It is at that point that gratitude ceases to be a thing practiced, and starts to be a natural expression of an inner condition of the soul.
One of the ways I was able to transform the way I viewed the world and my role in it, was to keep at it. I kept naming my blessings, kept thanking God for the things I could think to thank Him for.
The more specific I got, the more grateful I felt. It was not a one-prayer-fixed-all transformation. It was on-going. The more I counted my blessings, the less I took for granted.
And the less I took for granted, the more my heart was filled with happiness for the amazing abundance I was blessed with, even when things didn’t always seem to be going my way. There was still always so much to be grateful for. The abundance overwhelmed any feelings of scarcity.
When gratitude becomes spontaneous, the world opens like a flower in spring. Awe becomes a daily expression. Little things delight and inspire. Annoyances fade and often are transformed to wry smiles, nodding heads and recalculated plans.
Even heartache and the prospect of tragedy can take on new meaning.
If I lose a limb, I can truly be thankful I had it for the time I did and that I have three more.
If I lose an eye, I can be sincerely grateful I still have my nose, lips and ears.
If I lose a loved one, a part of my mourning heart can express gratitude for the time God blessed me to have that person a part of my life, for the memory of our time together, the lessons taught, the faith I have that there will be an eternal reunion.
If I lose my job, I can actually be grateful I have mind and muscle to learn something new. I can be thankful I have a family who needs me and a country that cares enough about jobs to make it a central part of the political conversation, not to mention the time off with my family while I look for a new line of employment, and the character muscles I’ll develop as I work to overcome and resolve the challenge.
That doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily happy about losing limbs and eyes, loved ones and jobs. But it does mean that there is a larger context from which to see the trials and tragedies.
A Changed Perspective
Are you able to see the power and magic of gratitude as a pervasive attitude, a radically life-altering and insanely beautifying perspective? It’s a different way of looking at life. It doesn’t ignore reality. It just focuses on the good parts.
Gratitude is emotionally revolutionary. It is transformative. It changes us at the core, especially if the core has been crowded with negativity and pessimism. We see life more brightly. Not because life brightens, but because we choose to focus on its brightest parts.
It’s important to note that to be habitually grateful is not to live in a fantasy world.
Here’s the thing: Beside every heartache is a lesson. Next to every mound of dung is an opportunity to give birth to new life. Excrement certainly smells but also fertilizes.
You see, it’s not pretense. The good and beautiful coexist right beside the bad and ugly. Gratitude is simply a change of focus, a choice to see more beauty than ugly, to feel more joy than sorrow, to experience all of life, not just the unfortunate.
As you develop this kind of steroid-pumped gratitude that radically changes how you fundamentally view the world, your life can become something extremely beautiful, rewarding and deeply, richly and insanely happy.
Give it a try. I think you’ll like it.
I would love to read your thoughts and reactions in the comments below!
Photo by muffintinmom