It is said that maintaining a feeling of gratitude is the greatest contributor to joy in life. It is also listed as a primary trait in people who live longer than average. I can see how this makes sense. Negativity causes stress and stress affects the body in very real ways. What is now called toxic stress, has been proven to have massive physical and emotional impact including shortened life spans.
Sounds simple, be positive and appreciative, live better and longer. Be negative and a complainer, be sick and die younger. Read that sentence again, because it is the only answer you will find in this article. From here on I just have questions.
How do we move beyond our problems and injuries to feel real gratitude? I don’t have future financial security. The stock market crash and real estate values took most of what we had built up for retirement. After a lifetime of using and abusing alcohol and drugs I have had to give up my instant, “feel good” mood stabilizers. After 42 years of marriage we still have to put effort into “staying together” and maintaining a healthy balance. I find it is extremely difficult and it takes constant effort to be the person I want to be with my immediate family, instead of falling back into former negative behaviors.
Our future seems to fade into a mist. Is talking about child sex abuse and worry going to be the only things that will fill my mind and hold my interest? What will tomorrow bring? Will it be the same or worse than today? The contacts and activities that are satisfying, feel good for at most a few hours and then they are gone, lost in memory. Maybe my former “mood Stabilizers” helped me hold on to those feelings longer. Perhaps the bridges in my feel good neuropathways are in fact all made out of artificial stimulants.
Okay, here’s a thought. Oregon has spent millions and millions of dollars replacing all the bridges in the state because they were old and could not withstand current traffic or earthquakes. I’m beginning to think I need to replace all the bridges in my brain one at a time. Does it make sense to take out the old artificially supported bridges and replace them with positive thinking and gratitude?
I know it’s possible, but really, after sixty years of taking short cuts and denial can I really change? Somehow I survived being sexually abused for three years as a teenager. I survived over forty years of risky behaviors including alcohol and drug abuse. Can I find joy without 2-4 glasses of wine a night? Is there something better than withdrawing into my own private little world that feels as comforting as a womb?
What do I have to be grateful for? A partner who has shared almost everyday for 44 years with me; two daughters who are amazing human beings and I am extremely proud of; six grandkids who drive me crazy at times yet fill my life with incomparable value and give me hope for the future; sobriety (some days unsure on this one); meaning in my life and work; the opportunity to help others; a lifestyle that ranks in the top one percent on a worldwide basis (way more than adequate food, water, housing, clothing and transportation); health; the right of personal choice everyday. I could fill pages with all my gifts. I’m thinking that when something is in too much abundance it looses its value. Do I really have so many blessings that they don’t mean much to me? That’s sick.
Here is where I am going to start today. A friend gave me a tiny blank book with parchment paper. I asked her what it was for and she said whatever you want. I’m going to take it out of the drawer and begin writing daily blessings in it. When I have a good conversation or do something that makes me feel good, I’ll write it in that book. Four things have happened this morning I can write and it’s only 10. As I add to the book I will see past entries, and at the end of the day I will read what I wrote just before bed. Then when I get up tomorrow I will continue building my book of gratitude. After days, weeks and months maybe the bridges in my brain will be supported in a new way to create pathways to satisfaction, joy and gratitude.
There are no guarantees but it seems worth the try to find fulfillment in the midst of all this abundance. Happiness is not the result of how many gifts we have, it is the result of what value we place on our gifts.