“STOP WHINING AND feeling sorry for yourself,” we often hear people say. “Why don’t you just learn to count your blessings? You’d be so much happier if you did.”
Unfortunately, such urgings — no matter their good intent — rarely help us. Why?
Because shifting our focus from what our lives lack to the abundance that is always present is difficult spiritual work.
It takes practice. And if you’re like me, it takes daily practice.
Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what we have, independent of monetary worth.
Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of the gift and goodness of life.
It is a recognition that we are not alone, that life has meaning, and that there is reason to be giving thanks even when life has brought us to our knees.
Yes, it is true: gratitude will make us happier.
It strengthens relationships, reduces stress, improves our health and helps us stay resilient in the face of hardship.
Whether we choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that we have, giving thanks transforms us in many important and helpful ways.
So, how do we ground ourselves in gratitude when so much in life seems difficult and uncertain?
Cultivating gratitude starts with noticing the goodness in life, such as the natural beauty, clean air and abundant water of the Olympic Peninsula.
Or the people who care about us, make us laugh or inspire us with their music, art and ideas.
Or the animals that bring us delight with their antics.
Or the fact that our hearts are still beating and another day beckons.
These types of gifts are so easy to overlook while living in a materialist culture that encourages constant wanting, and that names possessions as the primary source of happiness.
It’s so human to forget about them while being consumed with the pandemic details, the political debates or with our human tendency to separate humanity into “us” versus “them.”
Unfortunately, envy, fear, judgment and cynicism are the very thieves of gratitude. They are of no help to us now.
No matter the challenges in our individual lives, each of us has so many reasons to be grateful today … and every day.
Recognizing this helps us stay open to life, and to become more aligned with the loving goodness at the heart of creation.
But if you are still struggling to find your way to gratitude, allow me to share some tips from someone who has experienced great suffering and yet is known the world over for his joy, the Dalai Lama:
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
I am not a Buddhist, but I like many of the Dalai Lama’s perspectives on living a good and meaningful life.
He argues that the purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness.
I think he’s onto something.
Staying open to life during stressful times is not an easy thing to do.
Whining and venting do have their short-term benefits, and I wouldn’t ask anyone to forgo them completely. But if you’re tired of being stressed out, grumpy and unhappy, I’d like to suggest grounding yourself with the practice of gratitude — today and every day.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]