Choose Gratitude in the Face of Disappointment

By Etta Hornsteiner
man with outstretched arms-gratitude

It was a rainy fall day. I sat by my window longing for some respite in the weather so that I could go to the gym. It finally came. I quickly got dressed, packed my bag, and headed for the gym. There I met Margarite, my 74-year-old friend, who had just finished exercising.

“It’s a beautiful rainy fall day,” I chimed.

Margarite didn’t agree and quickly corrected me: “There is nothing beautiful about all the rain that’s been flooding people’s homes.”

I was taken aback, but I was not going to let it go so easily. “Well, I am grateful for the rain. I choose to be thankful because there is always going to be disappointment out there. Besides, I am sure the people in California battling forest fires would appreciate some rain right about now.”

“Now, that’s a sad state. All those people losing their homes,” she responded.

“Yes, it is, but we can offer at least a prayer of compassion for them.”

Margarite agreed. And she seemed to recognize that it was okay to be thankful even in the face of disappointment.

Gratitude should be a practice like exercising. But too often we seem afraid to live a life of gratitude, and thus joy, because we think not feeling grateful and joyful will help us to avoid the pain that comes with disappointment.

Here are three gratitude killjoys we need to be aware of:

3 Gratitude Killjoys

Anxiety: “Don’t get too happy, because you know all is not well.  Believe it or not, this is a universal feeling. “We are an anxious people and many of us have very little tolerance for vulnerability,” says Brené Brown, Ph.D., research professor at the University of Houston and author of The Gifts of Imperfection. We spend our time thinking about what’s not working, what’s wrong or what’s not right.

Feeling uncertainty about life is no reason to deprive yourself of gratitude. To do so is to deprive yourself of joy, for gratitude is the mother of joy.

Pessimism: “Eventually the other shoe will drop.” Instead of paying attention to what is positive—beautiful, lovely, a good report—you spend your time thinking about or obsessing over the negative. This type of mindset is unhealthy. “Any form of negative rumination—for example, worrying about your financial future or health—will stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals,” warns Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia and author of Words Can Change Your Brain.

Don’t allow imaginary fears to steal your joy.

Superstition: “If I acknowledge the goodness in life, it will invite disaster.”  Live! Now is the time to embrace life fully. Tomorrow is not promised. Only today. In the words of Satchel Paige, a famous American Negro League Baseball and Major League Baseball pitcher, “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

Live with a heart of gratitude. Gratitude is a tonic for the heart and mental sunshine for the brain.

Gratitude, like faith, is useless unless practiced.

Here are some reasons to give thanks always.

3 Gratitude Lifegivers

Give thanks for you are enough. You are beautifully created. Don’t absorb the messages that you are not good enough until you lose those pounds, or you cannot be happy until you are in that new place, or you’ve found that soulmate. Give thanks for where you are now on the journey. You must expand your ability to appreciate all of life in the here and now. For ingratitude—lack of gratitude suffocates the heart. Sometimes you can fool the brain, but you cannot fool the heart. Don’t withhold joy from yourself. Remove the fetters of demands you place upon yourself and allow yourself to be free! You deserve joy without any strings attach.

Give thanks for today. Today you have all that you need. Just like the birds who have their food for today, you have been given your provision for today. Sufficiency is a state of mind and a spiritual state.

Give thanks for the ordinary. Sometimes, it is not until we have had a loss that we appreciate the mundane—the ordinary things in life like the rain, sunshine, family, friends, the loyal dog or cat, a place to call home.

silhouette image of man expressing gratitude

• By practicing gratitude, you are retraining your brain to think differently. Gratitude reframes a negative thought into a positive one. For example, instead of worrying about your health—which will only make it worse—think about what you can be thankful for, ways you can get healthy, and the steps you need to take to achieve your health goal. Here at Woodhaven At Home, we have wellness coaches and care coordinators to help you set goals that can protect your health and finances. If you need financial help, we can also recommend financial advisors to assist you. Their services, however, are not included in the Woodhaven At Home membership.

• By daily practicing gratitude, you can shift your focus from the negative to the positive. The human brain loves to “ruminate on negative fantasies;” however, it responds to “positive and negative fantasies as they were real,” Dr. Newberg claims. Knowing that the brain responds in this way is encouragement to practice gratitude mindfulness meditation:

Close your eyes and imagine giving thanks for your body—beginning with your head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Slowly move your attention towards your shoulders. Breathe deeply. Is there any tension in them? Relax them. Continue this body scan. Giving thanks for your arms, heart, legs etc. Now, offer this same gratitude to someone else.

• By remembering to give thanks always, you are shifting the focus from yourself. Self-absorption can lead to loneliness and thus depression. A heart of gratitude helps you to transcend yourself and recognize someone bigger than yourself in the universe—God or a higher power.

During this season of life, recognize that though you are not the author of your story, you do have a voice by the decisions you make, especially in the face of disappointment. Choose gratitude in the face of despair or joy, fear or love, darkness or light, uncertainty or certainty. In all things, give thanks!!! Choose gratitude.

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