Updated: Oct 26, 2020
When life throws things at us, it is easy for us to focus on things that are not going well. Because we are so busy getting things done, we tend to take it for granted what others are willing to do for us.
When we ask someone to do us a favor, we may not be aware of their prior commitments to other things. Without meaning to do so, we pile up more things on their plate that is already full.
When I was working 24/7 in academia as a researcher, I was one of those "difficult" people who were not considerate of others' time. My thought went like this: I have to work all the time just to keep myself afloat. What is a big deal for you to spend an hour doing this for me? What I did not realize back then is that most people struggle with many deadlines to meet all the time. Taking care of my request on short notice may cost their personal time that they were planning to spend on other things. How unfair would it be!
Sometimes I receive such requests from my colleagues or friends, who would not know my priorities at a given time. That is when I realized how wrong it was for me to expect others to take care of my requests on short notice. People donate their time to do me a favor. I may not be aware of all the troubles that they have to go through to make it happen. It makes more sense to be thankful for their willingness to do me a favor regardless of its difficulty or how long it takes.
As soon as I understood this piece of the puzzle, I came to notice more things I feel grateful for. When a stranger expresses their interest in what I have to say, it almost feels like a miracle to me. How lucky am I to be recognized by other souls? A big smile on a baby girl I made laugh this morning, a subway conductor who helped me choose the best ticketing option, a kind lady who let my car in before hers, or my friends who listen to my aspirations and struggles over lunch. What about a breath-taking sunset that I have caught outside the window of a commuter train?
Reminding myself of these simple acts of kindness and beautiful moments helps me appreciate little things in life. And I feel happier as a result.
Viktor Frankl said, "Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Perhaps gratitude can serve as a guide to our response that promotes our growth. It even makes it possible for us to take our failures as opportunities to learn. There is a story about two prisoners. One prisoner, who had only complained about spending so much time in jail, ended up going back to jail. On the other hand, another prisoner, who had written a book based on his experience in prison, became successful as a writer. We cannot change what happened in the past, but it is up to us what we make out of it.
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To exercise our gratitude muscle, we can reflect on what we feel grateful for and express it in person or in writing daily. Let's tell people how grateful we are for them being there for us. This habit would encourage us to respect others by recognizing their strengths and achievements. I also constantly remind myself of three action points that help me stay resilient during troubled times. A moderate level of physical activity boosts our mental strength as well.
Are you ready to see what changes this daily exercise will bring to your life?