A reader of this blog asked me to elaborate upon what I mean when I write about "practising gratitude."
I was taught by my first sponsor that gratitude doesn't just come upon us unannounced - not at first, it doesn't, because most of us come into Al-Anon full of anger, resentment, self-pity, and other strong emotions. Not only does there not seem to be any room inside our heads for gratitude, but I for one, couldn't find a darn thing to be grateful for. One of the tools in my arsenal was sarcasm, and I used it liberally, slathering it over my daily life, steeping myself in cynicism and negativity.
I thought anyone with a positive attitude had to be a fool, or at the very least, faking it.
My sponsor pointed out to me that whatever opinion I decided to maintain, was my choice, and mine alone. If I wanted to stay miserable, I could clutch onto my negative opinion about life, carry it forward with me, and it would poison all that I saw, experienced, and felt.
Or I could begin to practise gratitude. For me, the beginning was not just to practise gratitude, but to force it. It didn't come naturally to me, to any degree. At the start, I would try to find one thing to feel grateful about, and fail completely.
I was utterly blind to the fact that I had plenty about which I could feel gratitude, if I so chose. I was well-fed, well-clothed, comfortably housed, had a vehicle to drive, a dog I adored, and friends who loved me. I was rich with opportunities for gratitude, it was just that I always had my face turned away from those riches, and towards the alcoholic, and the alcoholism, or the miseries of my childhood.
An AA speaker I really like, Bob B, spoke in one of his talks about getting up every morning, and choosing to "paste something to my eyeball, and that's what I see all day long. If I paste something which is annoying and frustrating to me, I'll be annoyed and frustrated all day. If I paste gratitude, I'll be grateful and blessed all day."
Emotions are powerful, and can have us swinging like a pendulum. But gratitude is more powerful. Gratitude can centre and calm me, regardless of the level of my discontent or upset when I start.
I began by forcing gratitude, as I mentioned earlier in this. I wrote down a list of things for which I could be grateful, had it always with me, and when my mood began to sour, I would pick one or two things on my list, and begin to silently thank my Higher Power for whatever it was. After a few dozen (or hundred) repetitions, I would begin to feel grateful for it.
Practise gratitude the way you'd practise the piano if you were trying to learn to play. You wouldn't walk past it, and hope that soon you'd be good at it, while never opening the lid, would you? No, you'd find regular periods of time in which you could sit down and practise. Well gratitude is the same. I needed to practise the habit of gratitude by forcing gratitude. And the way I did that, was by thanking my Higher Power, for the things on the list I'd compiled with my sponsor.
Do you have fresh running water? A warm, safe place to sleep? Start there. Be grateful for the big things, and the rest will follow. Bless you.