Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grateful in Life

"Blue Beyond the Clouds" • Acrylic

November has been lost. The Christmas fever that now begins the day after Halloween has swallowed it up and Thanksgiving right along with it. Not a particularly “sexy” holiday, Thanksgiving doesn’t have costumes or ornaments or presents. You can easily argue that it is based on a historical lie, but I believe there is value to the holiday if you focus on the thankfulness aspect. Some have tried to reclaim it with daily social media postings of gratitude. My husband is doing this and I look forward to his daily posts. They draw my thoughts in new directions and make me appreciate things I may not have paid much attention to recently. Chronically ill friends are posting thankfuls as well to try to improve their daily outlook on life and recent studies suggest great value in this; that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness. One leading researcher, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a group of 411 participants a variety of assignments to measure their impact on overall happiness. When asked to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they felt had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants showed an immediate large increase in happiness scores and the increased happiness lasted for a month; greater than from any other intervention. Gratefulness also encourages forgiveness, empathy, decreases anxiety, improves depression and combats loneliness. 

What prompted me to write this blog entry was a pattern I’ve recently noticed. People struggling with resolving the conflict between grief and gratitude. Feeling that the bad things negate the good. A friend recently said her mother told her “there is always something to be thankful for.” She shot back, “what if there are 2 bad things for every good thing?” Her Mom said, “just shoot them.” They both have a point, but you can’t easily, nor should you, ignore the bad, but you can’t let it drown you either. 

The holidays have the potential to stir up about every major conflict there is from family tensions, to finance issues, loneliness, depression and grief for family and friends that are no longer with us. There are no simple answers, but for me, living in a state of gratitude creates happiness and leaves me better able to put the negatives of my life, my illnesses, people I've lost, into perspective. This didn’t always come easily. For much of my life, and still to some extent, I am the first person to find flaws and beat myself up for perceived mistakes. Negative self-talk ran rampant. I was not good at forgiving myself and for years was in a relationship that fueled it. I didn’t like myself. More accurately, I didn’t like myself when I was with that person. Getting out of that relationship was the first step in a long road to rediscovering joy in life. Finding the silver linings is key. It’s harder to stay stuck in the bad if you actively look for the good that has come from it. That doesn’t mean you just accept the bad. You still should take positive steps to rectify situations and relationships that are negatively affecting you. Not everything is fixable, though. You also have to recognize when issues are beyond your control and not let them have power over you.

I try to look at my illnesses that way. They have robbed me of a lot and continue to do so. I shudder to add up all the time I’ve been hooked up to an IV for treatments. Instead I am thankful there is a treatment and thankful for the people who donate the plasma from which my medication is derived. They are also hooked up to an IV, but by choice. My views of what is important have also shifted as a direct result of being ill. My patience and empathy for others has grown. I want to share my experiences to help those with chronic illness when before I kept everything bottled up inside me, afraid of being seen as damaged. My sense of self and confidence have grown. 

People that know my husband and I in the non-virtual world often comment on how we act when we are with each other. More aptly, how it’s not an act. The love, affection and respect is very apparent and they want to know the secret. There really isn’t much of one. We simply realize how damn lucky we are to have found each other and that gratitude guides us. Each day is precious. This I learned from the death of my first husband. Nothing is to be taken for granted. We still get annoyed at each other and have occasional arguments like any couple, but hurt feelings do not linger. We are mutually supportive and care greatly for the other’s success and happiness. We celebrate the small things. I know that I am very fortunate to have this amazing relationship with him and I vow to never forget that. 

Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. This I have accepted and it brings me peace. Looking for reasons why doesn’t. Perfection is not attainable. Other people are always going to have more than you and also have less. Thanksgiving serves as a small reminder of what we need to carry with us throughout the entire year. Remember to be grateful for what we have.