If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “Have an attitude of gratitude!” I’d be a rich man, who’d probably still find a way to complain about it. Isn’t it funny how we humans are capable of that? Maybe funny isn’t the right word, but I think you get the idea. Why is gratitude a topic so many of us scoff at? For me, I know when I am told to be grateful I tend to reach for more to complain about! I am still working on breaking this awful habit. If anyone in the world can get a solid grasp on gratitude, I think we’d watch many of the things we call “problems” melt away.
As annoying as some people may seem about it, gratitude is the truth. I have cursed the person who can “gratitude spin” literally everything, but in my heart of hearts I know they have a real grasp on perspective. I may complain about the food I am eating isn’t the best, or think it is far too hot outside, period. Hanging around an optimistic individual you will hear statements like “Just be grateful that you have food!” or “We’re lucky to be JUST far away enough from the sun that earth and humans flourish and not combust into flames!” These may be dramatic examples but let’s be realists for a moment. The person continually stating the obvious can be seriously obnoxious. Yet, as ridiculous as it is, there is an underlying truth here.
Before I dive into my personal experience, let me begin by contemplating the question, what exactly is gratitude? I was always under the impression that it was simply saying thank you and being appreciative, and to a certain extent, that’s true. I always associated gratitude with material things. When I would receive a gift, manners taught me to say thank you. When someone did something for me, I would let them know I appreciated the gesture. Common theme: I was employing a very surface level type of gratitude, while underneath it all negativity and discontent were festering.
Gratitude is not merely appreciation of what happens on the outside world, it is a deep-seated spiritual mindset. Gracefully acknowledging all things are beneficial in their own unique ways moreover, accepting whatever may happen to you with appreciation, with gratitude. For some, myself included, this can seem like hard fiction, imaginative and amusing at best, yet real, pure gratitude is entirely attainable.
In early recovery, I was very comfortable in my pessimism, enjoying it fully. The world sucked, and I was okay with that. How could I be grateful for all these awful things that had happened to me? Sure I might say thank you to the kitchen staff for preparing a meal, but was I really grateful for three hot meals a day? No. I envied the people further along in the program who could just spin anything into positive insight, casting that positive light onto all circumstances. I watched them waltz through their treatment without a care in the world. I hated it. Moreso, I wanted it.
Pessimism was a vicious cycle that I was too scared to break. Even in moments where I might have felt less angry throughout the day, it would take one small event that would send me right back into my negative thinking. I was truly becoming sick and tired of being sick and tired. And being the new kid to the faculty about a week or so, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I fancied myself a reserved person, even so, I wore my negativity like a torso sized scarlet letter, flashing a bright neon red glow. In hindsight, I don’t know how anyone could stand to be around me, but their own gratitude for me and my earnest work toward recovery made me a tolerable addition to the group. I started to notice the differences between myself and the rehab family I shared close quarters with. All of their stories were filled with happy endings and laughter, and here was grumpy old Jared to rain on everyone’s parade with “woe is me” and anecdotes of “everything sucks.”
My therapist attempted to get through to me on this issue, but early on I couldn’t see the idea of gratitude clearly. I was still narrow-minded and very stubborn. It took the gentle kindness of a client’s observations, exposing my negativity to the light.
The two of us were out at the fire pit, enjoying a nice breezy Florida winter’s eve together. I caught glimpses of him, serene and mesmerized by the glow of the flames, portraying a perfect picture of pure contentment. Within a few minutes of being out by the fire, I found myself complaining about my therapist pushing me to see the positives. Next on the list of irritable things was the large bonfire and the intense heat I was in close proximity to. Then the moth that was fluttering near me, too close for comfort. Complaint after complaint, my friend just listened, waiting patiently for me to finish my ongoing rant.
Finally, I paused to catch my breath. My friend chimed in to start a conversation that altered the course of my entire recovery. He asked why I was so angry? I quickly began to repeat myself about the therapist, fire, and bugs and he stopped me. He asked me if that was REALLY what I was upset about? After the question was asked I sat in silence. I knew the answer in my head was no, but I was unclear as to why I was so angry. He then shared with me a carbon copy of the story I am explaining to you now. He stated he saw himself in me, and his problem was a lack of gratitude.
I countered that I always said thank you and showed appreciation. He then challenged me, saying gratitude is not something you just show, it is something you feel. In society, we have all learned manners and to make people feel appreciated, but are we ourselves actually appreciative? I had to humble myself and realize I was not. I was performing the act of appreciation, not really feeling it.
He shared with me certain things that help him attain an attitude of gratitude, and that it’s a daily struggle. He mentioned getting a piece of paper and writing down every single thing I am grateful for, either in the morning or at bedtime. In the case of my crippling negativity, I had to do both. It started very surface level: I am grateful for my wife, my parents, for food, so on and so forth. Yet after a steady week, I found myself truly becoming grateful for the deeper things in life. Being ACTUALLY grateful for the air I breathe, the sun, my sobriety, my positivity, and even that I am a drug addict!
Gratitude can be contagious, like yawning or laughter. Writing a gratitude list and keeping it in the forefront of my mind has changed my life and recovery for the absolute better. So often we do not realize we are caught in a negative cycle, and the impact of a kind, grateful soul to show us the way may be necessary. I hope I have been that for you today. Really try the gratitude list, you might be surprised (or grateful) at what you find!
Written By Jared Schappert Edited By Crystal Champ