Gratitude for what we don’t have (HUH?)

By | May 2, 2016

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Guided by a core belief that we’re all entitled to radical engagement in all aspects of our lives, I realized recently we can experience this level of engagement even when life sucks.

While the holidays are often a time of joy, they can also bring profound sadness. At this time of year in particular, we’re bombarded with how to become more grateful: Host an entire day devoted to Thanksgiving. Send thank you notes. Resolve to start a gratitude journal.

So what about those times when we feel life is lacking? When life feels like death, or when we, or loved ones, are in significant pain?

A gratitude journal may not cut it.

That’s why this post focuses on a completely new take on the power of gratitude. One that not just helps us feel better about what we have–it also helps us through times when we are without. When we’re back-against-the-wall suffering. This is a tool that helps increase our resiliency. Lessens suffering. And for some, is even more powerful than over-the-counter pain reliever.

Dr. Tanmeet Sethi, who for years suffered as her son–with a horrific form of muscular dystrophy–sought relief from her own sense of helplessness and pain as a mother.

As Tanmeet explains in her compelling TEDx talk, this new form of gratitude helps remove our resistance to pain. It is a gateway to less suffering. It can even “work like a pill,” especially when things go wrong. This shift in gratitude fundamentally changes our relationship to pain, because it changes our brains–which directly changes our experience.

Pain is often the result of our resistance to what is before us. And our resistance causes suffering. Tanmeet gives us an easy formula: S = P x R. In other words, Suffering = Pain x Resistance. The more we resist pain, the greater the pain. If we can learn to say yes to an experience of pain in the moment, we can physically and mentally feel it lessen.

Here’s how that may sound: “Thank you for showing me my heart is breaking (so I can feel closer to you.)” “Thank you for showing me my limits (so I can better know my capacities).” “Thank you for this current political leadership (so I can get clearer on my core values).” When we soften our resistance, our lives take on more meaning, even more joy.

Gratitude creates a buffer to pain. And opens us to experiences as they are, not as we wish them to be.

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