JFK gratitude

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, I was thinking about some of my favorite JFK quotes. This one stands out.

We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.

Meg came up with a brilliant idea to practice gratitude in our family. Each Thanksgiving we write gratitude notes for each member of the family; anything from appreciating help with a project to gratitude for being an awesome, kind person. I’ve grown to love this practice. These are the four people who make the biggest difference in my life, and they should know it.

It’s almost a pity to wait until Thanksgiving, like it’s a pity to wait until someone dies to write a eulogy for them, and it’s a missed opportunity to wait for someone to leave before telling them how much they mean to you. It’s like buying someone a gift, wrapping it up nicely and leaving it hidden in a closet. You have to get it out, express it, give people a chance to unwrap the gift. How powerful to express things while we have the chance! Let people listen in to their own eulogy like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Some things are easier to be grateful for than others. Being grateful for my family is easy; they are easy to love and appreciate. Being grateful to the people who have inspired me to live my dreams is easy. When my 11 year old wrote a note for her 19 year old brother that said, “Thank you for encouraging me to live my dreams by living your dreams”, my heart melted and I could totally relate. People that live bold, authentic lives are inspirational, and I find it easy to be grateful for them.

But what about the haters and doubters? And what about situations from the past that I would rather forget, situations that still send a shiver up my spine? SHOULD we be grateful for them? Yes and no!

On the one hand, no! Why be grateful for nasty people and situations? We should move on and try to forget them, maybe even tell them what we think.

On the other hand, yes! The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a tough winter. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression. Thanksgiving was never separated from the challenges of life.

Here are five ways to be grateful for ALL situations and ALL people.

  1. Practice Seeing The Whole Rather Than The Holes

If you look at your past in pieces, and break it down into good and bad moments, you will drive yourself crazy. All you will see are holes. It’s like a 3D picture. If you look at one part, it makes no sense. You have to see it as a whole.

If you look at your life as a whole, you can see the thread of growth and meaning through ALL of it. Then a general feeling of gratitude for who you have become can fill in the holes from the past.

Don’t be thankful for hard times. Be real. Call them what they were, or are. Be grateful for who you’re becoming. Be grateful for the gift of being able to get back up when you’ve fallen down. Be grateful for your life as a whole, and stop judging it piece by piece.

  1. Stop Expecting Life To Add Up

Alice Walker said, “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.” So often we expect life to add up, make sense, match our expectations. It’s this sense of entitlement which makes gratitude so elusive. Why would we be grateful for situations that don’t meet our standards or hopes? Drop some expectations, and learn to see surprise as a gift. Gratitude is grace. It surprises you when you least expect it. The only precondition is openness. From this perspective, gratitude is never far from the surface.

expect nothing

  1. It’s ALL part of who you are, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Emerson said,

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.

Be grateful even to the haters. It’s because of them that you have a backbone. They toughened you up and made you who you are today. While they were busy trying to knock you down, you were busy building yourself up.

When I think back to people who tried to tear me down and push me around, I’m learning to be grateful. They fast tracked my growth and solidified my vision. My WHY became clearer with every attack, and I never looked back.

emerson gratitude

4.      Be Grateful and the Feelings Will Follow

There’s a difference between BEING grateful and feeling grateful. You feel what you feel, and you can’t control or pretend you feel grateful if you don’t. That’s called denial. Being grateful is a choice, part of the reframing process of past memories. Being grateful is an intentional act of will. Start with the intention, and let the feelings follow.

Feelings happen on their own time schedule. You can create the conditions for feelings of gratitude. You can prepare your mind for gratitude. You can nurture an environment for gratitude. But the feelings will come in their own time. This is why gratitude so often comes after the fact, as you process and frame memories.

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.” ~ Gregory David Roberts

5.      Being alive is gift itself.

gift of life

A group of students came to their Rabbi. “Rabbi, we are puzzled. It says in the Talmud that we must give thanks as much for the bad days, as for the good. How can that be? What would our gratitude mean, if we gave it equally for the good and the bad?”

The Rabbi replied, “Go to Anapol. Rabbi Zusya will have an answer for you.”

The students undertook the journey. At last, they came to the poorest street of the city. There, crowded between two small houses, they found a tiny shack, sagging with age.

When they entered, they saw Rabbi Zusya sitting at a bare table, reading a volume by the light of the only small window. “Welcome, strangers!” he said. “Please pardon me for not getting up; I have hurt my leg. Would you like food? I have some bread. And there is water!”

“No. We have come only to ask you a question. Our Rabbi told us you might help us understand: Why do our sages tell us to give thanks as much for the bad days as for the good?”

Rabbi Zusya laughed. “Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He shook his head in puzzlement. “You see, I have never had a bad day. Every day I am overawed by the gift of being alive.”

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  1. Virginia Urbach says:

    I am saddened to know that you and Meg will soon be leaving. Soulseeds have been my source of inspirations and honestly have helped me through my despair in losing a loved one. It was Soulseeds that I looked to for wit, humor, sense of well-being, and love. I am ever so grateful for the journey that I traveled with you. I pray that your destination back to your homeland will be as exciting if not more. America has been blessed by your words of encouragement and wisdom, I know I have.  I pray that you and Meg will continue to inspire us and that you will remember us Americans in kind.  With love in my heart and tears in my eyes, love and blessings to you both.

  2. ian says:

    thank you Virginia, you are a very kind person. We are honored to have helped in some small way with your loss, and look forward to continuing to offer whatever support we can.

  3. Stuart says:

    Some great insights and truths shared here. It’s so true that BEing and FEELing are different. Every day I say my gratitude mantra out loud – sometimes I DON’T ‘feel’ grateful as I start. Sometimes I really down about something. But I continue, and visualise everything I talk about in the mantra and most days that brings forth the feeling – even in a small way. Most days, NOT every day. And there’s the lesson from this post – keep on! Great things happen through persistence. Sometimes our efforts won’t be rewarded. But we must keep on. Thanks for this beautiful post. :)

  4. ian says:

    thanks for your comment Stuart (in more ways than one :) Keep on, no matter what

  5. Sandra says:

    ‘Don’t save anything for a special occasion. Being alive IS the special occasion.’ Always inspiring Ian, thank you for your wise words :-)

  6. louize says:

    ‘America has been blessed by your words of encouragement and wisdom…’ I have only recently discovered your site, but let it be known that you have blessed someone from the UK with your words too :)

  7. ian says:

    thank you Louize- be well

  8. Miriam says:

    Thanks for such a honest and well written remider of being grateful for the obstacles we all meet as well. 

  9. Joy says:

    Thanks for this article Ian. I am struggling with  ambivalent feelings at the moment. Our neighbor slipped in our driveway recently, breaking her wrist. She is now suing us for negligence, in spite of there being steps and a handrail provided right beside the driveway. The details are a little irrelevant really. I realise we live in an increasingly litigious society and that ” no win, no fee ” law firms make their bread and butter through these situations. They encourage people to be  opportunistic of course. But while understanding all of that, we still feel hurt that a neighbor  is happy to treat us in this way and make completely untrue statements and allegations. Hopefully we will be covered by public liability insurance, but if not it could cost us a great deal of money of course. I am feeling quite angry about it, there’s no denying! It’s teaching me that I can still allow these sorts of things to disturb my equilibrium in spite of spending years working through some much more difficult and traumatic experiences in my past. I think part of my anger is with myself in allowing this to affect me ! What do you think?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thank u so much for this! Really need it today, above all! Thanks for all the other things you shared, too. Really appreciate.