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Gratitude, Pain, and Suffering

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
– Zig Ziglar

Ahh, the practice of gratitude.

From my earliest memories, I was told “gratitude” is the antidote for feeling down. Yup, my master teacher was none other than Julie Andrews. If my memory serves me, I think the pain of life could all be washed away with thoughts of rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

Oh, the good old days when the only “pain” was the thought of imminent “death by thunder”. (Movie Reference: The Sound of Music)

In its simplest form practicing gratitude is taking time to notice things that you are thankful for.  And science confirms this. In fact, research has shown that (among many things), gratitude blocks negative emotions. Regular practice of gratitude has also been linked to a stronger immune system, less physical pain, lower blood pressure, improved sleep quality, and better overall health.

Now, I know what you might be thinking….”Tara, you wouldn’t understand.  My situation is hopeless”.

You might be in the midst of what seems like darkness….. with no light. If this is you, your feelings are 100% valid.  I am not suggesting you ignore the pain of your situation. But pain and suffering are two different things. Pain is an unpleasant sensory and/or emotional experience. Suffering is the interpretation of the story.

Let me be clear………”Practicing gratitude” will not remove the pain.  However, it might limit the suffering. And over time, consistent practice of gratitude has the potential to not just limit the suffering but also minimize the pain…….

I could write a 1000-page book filled cover to cover with all of the reasons why “I wouldn’t understand”.  My “insight” was given to me in my 20’s when I worked on a rehab unit with patients who had spinal cord injuries. Most of whom were my age or younger. One particular patient was paralyzed from the neck down.  I will never forget his “reason” (why I wouldn’t understand).  On this particular occasion he turned to me with a face that revealed anger and despair (and an attempt to get me to leave him alone), he uttered these words…….“You don’t know what it’s like to not feel a hug”. Yup. He was right. I would never understand what it would feel like (to be in my 20’s) and not be able to feel a hug. To this day, I never take a hug for granted.

Over the years I have learned that I can’t convince anyone that they should find something to be thankful for. Time, experience, and countless patients have convinced me “that I wouldn’t understand”.

But with that said, here is what I know to be true. Every moment you have a million thoughts and one brain. And each and every moment you get to choose which thought you want to hang on to. Do you choose to notice something that you have or something that you lack?

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.
Zig Ziglar

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