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Gratitude in Uncertain Times

We are living in challenging times. News of natural disasters, tragedies, political and international conflicts; it’s enough to want to crawl into a hole and hide until life seems calmer. Whether the tragedies and conflict are on the national or international stage, or more personal and close to home, hard times can sometimes seem too much to manage. It can be overwhelming to process all of the negative news. Taking breaks from the challenges can be effective, but hiding won’t make the challenges go away.  There’s no hiding from your life; it’s unfolding and evolving whether you are actively participating in it or not.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overburdened by the negative noise around us. Our brain is built to focus on the negative. It’s called the “negativity bias” and its job is to protect us. Without our brain’s ability to focus, in lightning speed, on negative, harmful things that can hurt us, we would be more vulnerable in the world. Focusing on the negative keeps us alive. Unfortunately, it can also be a handicap when we focus on negative things to the exclusion of everything else around us. Shining a spotlight on all the negative things in your world will bring you down. As a result, the spotlight also draws your attention away from other things going on in your world that are positive.

It can be especially difficult to draw your attention away from the negative when there are lots of negative things going on in your personal world and the larger world around you. While it may be hard to do, it’s an especially helpful practice that will build your resilience, to be able to turn your attention from the negative to appreciate the things in life that are going well. At any given moment, you can focus on what is not going well or you can focus on what is going well and/or is unfolding and working as planned.

In America, we are approaching Thanksgiving, a celebration of the bounty of the harvest. What better time to focus our attention on the bounty of life! When you feel pain, hurt and anger, it’s natural to narrow your focus on the problems.  From that perspective, it can be difficult to feel good about your life. Sometimes it can help to step back and take a wider view on your life, and on life in general as it unfolds in the world around you. Sometimes, we need to look harder, deeper, or perhaps at the things right in front of our nose that we take for granted, to find those things for which we can give thanks. You can begin by considering those things that give you life: the air you breathe, water, the sun, the earth, food, a beating heart. Next consider the basic comforts you may have that others in the world may not: basic safety from life-threatening dangers, a roof over your head, food to eat. Consider people you have in your life: family, friends, animal companions, co-workers, neighbors, the larger community that are available to support you and make your world better and more comfortable. Consider natural beauty in the world around you; right outside your door, down the road, and far away. Consider kindness and goodness of people both close to you and around the world. Take a moment to appreciate the many things big and small close to you and more broadly in the world that support life, love, and goodness.

Consider this meditation:

I am grateful for my life, love in my life, the comforts of my life, and the beauty surrounding me.

When life gets hard, it’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong. In hard times, practicing gratitude can add a broader and brighter perspective that helps lightens the load. And in good times, practicing gratitude celebrates the goodness and bounty of life! In this way, giving thanks is a helpful practice every day, in every season, all year long.

To your daily efforts to pay attention to the goodness in your world. I hope you notice much for which you can be grateful.

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