Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift…Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions or feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment.
-Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son-A Story of Homecoming
As a “recovering adoptee,” I’ve struggled not to resent the fact that I was relinquished by my original mother. Yes, it was for the best, and yes, I loved my adoptive parents. But still, even after so many resolutions and endless reflection, I felt anger that my original family situation could never be right. Too many years spent harboring invisible wounds ground me down to an angry hopelessness.
Henry Nouwen’s words, quoted above, changed my life. Anyone can feel gratitude when things are going well, the weather is smiling, and people in your life are reliable and supportive. It’s easy to be grateful when that’s the case. However, like the weather, that sunshiny kind of situation never seems to last for long. Knowing that, I needed to cut through the gloom with daily routines that put me in control of my “emotional landscape.” It’s been said that gratitude is taking the worst moment of your life and turning it into a blessing.
In developing my gratitude muscles, I’ve found the following tools helpful. The first two mental routines are best practiced during a walk outdoors. The final process is to be done at day’s end.
STEPS TOWARD DEVELOPING THE DISCIPLINE OF GRATITUDE:
1. Walk your brain: This is a technique developed by my friend Beth, who leads a women’s Tuesday-morning brisk aerobic jaunt. After you’ve started walking, imagine a goal and think of five things that will move you toward accomplishing it. The goal need not be lofty: Anything from a chore you’ve put off for too long to applying for a job or writing an overdue important letter. Name your intention and concentrate on the five steps to achieve that goal. Do this throughout your 15 or 30 minute walk, and put the plan into action right away.
2. This is another technique best practiced while strolling. Practice the “shake it off” mental housecleaning movement. When you find yourself dwelling on the dark side, shake either your right or left hand out into the air, as though shooing away pesky insects.
3. Every night before falling asleep, think of five things that you’re thankful for, events of that particular day or conditions of your life in general.
Indian-American author, physician, and New Age guru Deepak Chopra maintains that “a gift resides in every moment.” By practicing the discipline of gratitude, one can learn to see those gifts, to find an opportunity behind every problem, and to walk through the darkest hours and come out on the other side.