How to be Thankful when you Don’t Feel Like it?
How are you doing this Holiday season? I hope my message reaches you doing well. When I was recently invited to be a Guest speaker for the Thanksgiving season, it was interesting for me to find out that the reason I was chosen to come speak for this occasion was the same reason why I was invited last year by another group to come speak for their Thanksgiving celebration – they wanted to know how I can be positive and thankful on a daily basis while dealing with pretty severe challenges having no legs and one arm. This inspired me to write a message about it on a blog.
During Thanksgiving, we take a moment to think about what we’re most grateful for. It is a tradition on a Thanksgiving Day for a family to get together around a table, sharing what they are thankful for and having delicious food. On that day it feels like the atmosphere changes in the air because on that day people make an effort to remember what they are thankful for, counting their blessings instead of problems. And then what happens? Another tradition is right at the end of that day – a famous Black Friday! On the very next day, and even that same night a thanksgiving mood and feeling of gratitude are often overshadowed by constant questions on where to get the best deals, worries, stress, anxiety, full schedules and concern trying to find Christmas gifts and getting ready for Holidays. Our focus is shifted into many other directions. Very soon we go back to our normal routine, and appreciation and gratitude of Thanksgiving Day are left behind. When we dive in back to our routine, facing problems and challenges coming our way, it is not always easy to feel a sincere gratitude, is it? Often times various events, people or situations that show up in our lives overshadows our joy and understanding how really blessed we are. It’s hard to feel gratitude when we have roaring storms around us.
What can steal our gratitude? Usually, it will be either some events that negatively impacted our lives, bad circumstances or other people that affect us in some negative ways. I sometimes hear people say to me “Well yeah, I am thankful for my life and what I have, but…” and then follows the complaint. Watching that person continue the thought, it looks like this thing that he complains about over-weighs all that he said he was grateful for. Can you relate to that at times? Before the car accident, I definitely could. In fact, I did not even look into my life from a perspective of “What am I grateful for?” I never really thought of things that I was thankful for. I considered that my vibrant health, my physical looks, what I had and what I could do was supposed to be like it was. It was just normal to me and it didn’t even occur to me that I could lose it all in one moment. Having all I wanted, I still would find various things that I was not happy about and constantly was sad about something. Now, even though I am missing nearly half of my body, I am very grateful for so many things that it overshadows my pain and the loss I had in my life. I very rarely have “bad mood”.
How can this be?
First of all, my inner joy, hope, peace, endurance and inner strength comes from Christ. I receive it in a prayer and through faith. The Lord is my Rock and He is my main source of inner qualities that are so important to have. I always know that all things work together for good in my life. I feel thankful even for difficult situations because I know they are going to work for my benefit in some ways. And I always smile when I see that it was for my benefit indeed. I spoke about it last year when I was invited as a Guest speaker for Thanksgiving Celebration at Melchizedek Church in Sacramento, CA. You are welcome to listen to the audio of it here:
There was a time in my life when I realized that in addition to that incredible inner joy that can be received from Jesus Christ in a prayer, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and His blessing on a daily basis, my experience in life greatly depends on how well I manage myself.
In addition to what I receive from God and my faith, I do work on myself. I believe one of the greatest favors a person can do for himself is learning to manage his own inner state. It is much easier to handle difficulties when we know how to choose our response in a way that will empower us to make the right decision what we are going to do next. Gratitude becomes a normal daily inner state when we know how to get it and how to manage our own feelings. We can have a positive attitude at all times when we know what creates it and how we can maintain it regardless of what’s going on around.
My biggest and probably one of the most significant eye openings was when I realized that my experience about one or another event depends on how I choose to look at it. In one of my blogs earlier, I shared about how our perspective about events determine our response and decision what we are going to do next. An event is a plain fact, and your own choice of perspective will give the color, feelings, and emotions to that event. I know, a lot of times it is hard to consciously choose perspective, especially when it comes to dealing with people who hurt you. Our life experience can be very bitter only because of other people’s attitude toward you, their words and actions that hurt you. There is a way to deal with it. But today I want to take an overall look at managing yourself, so you do feel grateful even if the storms of life a roaring around.
What is gratitude, thankfulness, appreciation or joy? All these are feelings, right? Sadness or worry are feelings as well. What does create either of those feelings? You. How? By thinking in a certain way. It is not the event and it is not people who make you feel in a particular way, but your interpretation and your focus. It is you who creates your own feelings. Your feelings follow your thoughts, or in other words, your feelings depend on your thoughts. You feel excitement when you think of things that excite you and you feel upset when you think of what’s bad and hurtful, right? You won’t be able get into a depression if you focus on things that make you excited or on new opportunities or when you feel gratitude about where you are in life. Same way, you may lose the inner peace that you received in a prayer if you start focusing on things that worry or frustrates you. You may lose your inner joy if you constantly think about that, which irritates and angers you. You give the direction to how you feel by choosing what you think about.
Your daily experience will be much different when you fully understand that your feelings are created by your own thoughts, and you are in full control of your own thoughts.
Yes, you can choose how you feel by choosing what you think. You can put yourself into anger by thinking about things that make you angry and make yourself feel uplifted by choosing to think what’s good in your life. I am sure you experienced numerous times this: when you wake up first thing in the morning, you feel peaceful and good. But then, when you are fully awake and remember some negative situation, your joy disappears. Then you start analyzing it and slowly but surely you start feeling irritated and not feeling too happy. It’s what many people call a “bad mood”. And you remain in a bad mood as long as you keep in mind your bad situation. Then, let’s say you have some unexpected pleasant surprise. What happens then? You immediately get excited and joyous, right? Pleasant surprise creates positive feelings and you feel great because this surprise took your focus away from the bad situation and shifted it to a pleasant one. Here is the trick: you will feel great as long as you will be focused on the pleasant surprise and beautiful experience it has created for you. But as soon as you go back into analyzing and thinking about that bad situation that you were thinking about in the morning, you will go back into your “bad mood”. Learn to control where your mind goes. It may not be easy at first. But just try deliberately choose what you think about. When you see that your mind wanders around and leans toward that which saddens, frustrates or makes you feel in any negative way – stop it and redirect it toward that which will be pleasant, lovely, hopeful, empowering or exciting. It will get easier with practice, just like everything else. Discipline is like a muscle.
Of course, there are times when we might not see any light and not even hope to see the light. It’s hard to be positive when we are in difficult circumstances and have difficult problems or if we are in pain. But we still can be in charge of how we feel. You know what helped me to hold on in my most difficult times? Focus on that, which I had and gratitude for. Trust me, it was really difficult because at times it seemed like my life was filled only with the continuous loss, immense pain and dark despair. A lot of times it felt simply unendurable. I was left with nothing to hold on to and there was no hope for a change. There was nothing that could make me feel better. Physical pain could be numbed by medicine, but emotional pain not. Still, there were times when after surgeries even morphine would not affect my pain and I was left to suffer with no way to ease the pain. When I was barely holding myself from literally crying out loud from pain and despair, that’s exactly what I did to hold myself together – I searched for things I was thankful for. In my mind, I was thanking God for saving my life, for my family, for friends who did not leave me, for the love and care that I was surrounded with. I thanked the Lord for I had my right hand and I could move my body. I thanked my God for those little opportunities even though they didn’t seem very promising. But I thanked anyway. Gratitude for what I already had and hope is what helped me to endure the times when I didn’t see the end of despair and agony. My endurance came from the hope that this shall pass and God will deliver me out of this despair and it will get better. And I never let it go. Interestingly, the more I focused on what I was grateful for, the better I felt. The more I focused on what I was able to do, the more I could do. The more I focused on what I liked about a person, the better relationship I had with that person. The more I thought of how thankful I was for the opportunity, circumstances were changing in my favor. I don’t know the mystery of gratitude, but what I do know is that gratitude is very powerful.
The more you focus on what you are grateful for, the more uplifted you will feel. In fact, I found that gratitude is a very powerful tool to change how you feel. You might say “How can I feel grateful if I am surrounded by so many problems and circumstances that just have no positive solution?” In reality, you have so much to be grateful for. But you will not notice that if you are going to be focused on what’s not good in your life. It may seem to you that you have only bad things happening in your life right now and there is no way you can find something to be grateful for. But you relax…take a deep breath and think for a moment… Let’s go through simple things. You have what to eat and nurture your body. Maybe you didn’t like the dinner that much today, but you are not one of the starving ones, who wish to have at least a bite to kill the hunger. Instead of walking in the streets and pushing a shopping cart with all your belongings looking for a safe corner or a homeless shelter, you have a home where is warm and your soft bed with many pillows. You are healthy. You have all parts of your body and you function well. How would you feel if you lost it? If you do have some physical challenges, do you know how many people are in much worse position than you are? You are not doing that bad after all, right? You have family that loves you and cares about you. You have friends that love and care about you… What your life would be like if you lost those who love you and you were absolutely lonely in this world? So many times you could have gotten in a horrible car crash, but you survived and in fact, you were not even injured. You wouldn’t want to appear in my position, would you? Look. You truly have what you can be grateful for.
The question is what you focus on.
I want to share with you a very interesting experience that made a major shift in my life. I remember or very well this special moment that was like a turning point in my life. I think it was about 7 or 8 years ago. At the time I recently moved to the United States. I lived in a beautiful land of sunshine California, but I felt very unhappy. Everything in my life seemed dreary, cold and dark. I did not feel happy nor was I even pleased with my life. I was on the bus going home from work. I did not want to go home. I did not want to see anyone and I did not want to do anything. I just felt empty and depressed. As I was driving and looking through the window, black thoughts were bombarding my mind. I did not see even one reason why I could feel happy or at least at ease. I caught myself feeling this way and asked myself “How did I get to this..? How in the world I got myself to the point that I feel so unhappy..?!” Suddenly, I felt this quiet gentle voice within me “Rise above it. Rise above all your problems and what you are not happy about. Inga, look at how much good you have in your life! But you don’t see it because you are focused on what doesn’t go the way you want it to go and you are constantly thinking about what you are not happy about. Rise above all you are not happy about. Rise above your dissatisfaction and look how much good you have in your life.” In my mind I envisioned myself going up and leaving behind all that made me unhappy. I left behind my dissatisfaction, my daily routine, household and job duties, concerns, problems, worries. As I left it all below, here above it felt so good and bright. I felt at ease! I looked at the horizon and I saw Success, Happiness, Joy, and Victories of my goals to be achieved yet. I was so longing for the sheer joy and easiness… I was so longing for the excitement of moving forward and achieving the goals that were getting me closer to my ultimate vision. The victory was ahead of me waiting for me to reach it, but… I stopped moving toward it. Just a while ago I had so many goals that I wanted to achieve. I was striving for excellence every time I did something. I had such a beautiful vision for the life I wanted to create! But I lost my vision because I switched my focus on that, which was right in front of me – facts of today’s reality. I focused on the parts of my life that made me irritated, unhappy and annoyed. I was constantly thinking about that, which made me unhappy instead of what I have achieved and what made my life fulfilling and beautiful. I focused on what was not working for me instead of seeking how I could implement the vision of the life I wanted to have. I knew I needed to switch my focus back to my vision. I needed to rise above all that made me so unhappy, leave it all behind and move toward implementing my dream. I had to walk in faith – I had to see my dream to be achieved. I had to choose to think about what I wanted my life to be like and how I could realize that, instead of what I was unhappy about. I will not implement my vision and I will not be happy if I am going to dwell on what was not working for me. I needed to shift my focus.
This was the day when my depressed inner state turned around. It seemed like someone opened my eyes and I saw what I didn’t see before – my life truly was amazing and I had so much to be thankful my life! All of a sudden I saw how much good I had in my life. I came to the U.S. knowing only one person and now I had so many wonderful people in my life. When I decided to move to California, I had nothing except my suitcase, few friends, and my dream, and now I do live in this absolutely gorgeous spot of the world! I move around independently, work, travel and enjoy my life just as I did prior the accident. When I decided to establish myself in California, I said to my family and friends that my next goal is almost as impossible as a flight to the moon, but I am going to try it anyway. And I landed! I literally live the dream that seemed nearly impossible! My life is just a miracle… I have so much more to accomplish and I have the opportunity to do that! That moment I felt that all those details that made me unhappy could not even compare to all what made my life so beautiful. I could not believe I did not see it before! And I did not see it only because I was focused on what was wrong in my life. I was constantly thinking about what I did not like and what I was unhappy about. Since that day I stopped doing that.
I made the decision to put my effort into turning away from my constant thinking about things that I was unhappy about. I had too many good things happening in my life to waste my time and my emotions on the negative. I decided to focus on how much beauty I have, what I have achieved so far and what I was going to accomplish yet. If there were situations that I was not happy about, instead of sitting complaining or drowning in dissatisfaction about it, I was seeking for the ways how I could improve my circumstances, so I don’t have to feel this way anymore. And I did not even bother myself thinking about some things that were irritable. That was a new beginning for me. In my mind, I kept my vision of the life I wanted to create, consistently worked on my goals, and by achieving one goal after another I improved my living conditions and my circumstances. Today I live my vision. Of course, life had and still has its own moments and unexpected “surprises”, but I always remember what that quiet voice gently told me.
Today I want to pass that message to you. Rise above it…. Don’t look what’s in front of you. Rise above it and look ahead. See how much good you have in your life and how truly blessed you are. Think more about that, than about your problems and difficulties. The only reason to pay attention to your problems is to evaluate the situation and find a way to resolve it. So when you look at your difficulty, focus on its solution. When you are not happy about some person, think more about what you like about him/her? When you face the unknown, fight your fear with faith and take action. Focus on that which empowers you. And know that all things work together for good to those, who love God and are called according to His purpose. Just realizing this will create the attitude of gratitude in you, because you will know that even difficulties are for your benefit.
Thanksgiving is not something you feel once a year… it is an attitude you carry within you all year long. It is very easy not to even notice the blessings that we receive every day when we are focused on what makes us feel sad or frustrated. Make it a habit for yourself every single morning to start your day and every night to end your day with the reflection of what you are grateful for. Very soon you will notice how your list of what you feel grateful for starts expanding. 🙂
Meanwhile, enjoy this beautiful Holiday Season. Enjoy your time seeing your family and loved ones!
Make your Holidays extraordinary!