[ A prayer I’ve relied on for years is ] ‘Please God, let me see this through Your eyes.’ Even though I don’t necessarily believe in a God that has a human form, saying this opens me up to a whole other perspective about the situation I’m facing, a much larger perspective.” — Margaret Wheatley, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
Robert Emmons has made a career out of studying gratitude. A professor of psychology at UC, Davis, editor of “The Journal of Positive Psychology,” and author of THANKS! HOW THE NEW SCIENCE OF GRATITUDE CAN MAKE YOU HAPPIER, he is the gratitude go-to guy.
Dr. Emmon’s has studied people from 8 to 80 and found that those who regularly practice gratitude have healthier immune systems, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. They are more optimistic and experience deeper levels of joy and happiness. They manifest greater compassion, are more forgiving, and feel less lonely and isolated. All in all, they lead happier, healthier lives.
Appreciating the big stuff, the good stuff, is relatively effortless. My own fount is connected to the God of Little Things. I walk into a Target and admire the color of the towels and the plastic storage boxes. I rhapsodize about the sway of the trees outside my window or a child’s smile. When the ATT guy goes out of his way to sort out my internet connection or the receptionist in my doctor’s office squeezes me in for an appointment, I pay tribute. I am no scientist, but i clearly feel in the laboratory of my heart the benefits of my gratitude for myself and others.
Living, as I am, what is probably the last third of my life, I’ve come to see — to respect — that there are times when gifts are given and gifts are taken away. That’s the way life is. I have, thus, made it a practice to not take what I have for granted. When my life is “smaller,” I just participate in it more fully. I celebrate the inches rather than the miles; I celebrate that goodness exists and value every kindness that comes my way. This helps me stave off the feelings of loss that can turn any absence into longing or remorse or envy. When your heart is in appreciation mode, there is no empty space to mourn or fill.
My times of “taking away,” of “less than” include a handful of medical traumas, financial loss, and the passing of some who are very dear to me. It’s not that I shine my feelings on or shove the experiences under the carpet. I give them their just due. I honor my losses and I grieve. I have sadness; I am not sad. I do not make my entire life about loss or grief. I pay even closer attention to the God in little things. I know that nothing stays the same, that “this too will pass.” This perspective speeds my recovery.
I take great comfort in the fact that Someone is looking out for me, that eventually I will learn what I need to learn from whatever situation I find myself in, and I will prosper for having had that experience. My God loves me, us, enough to help us clean up our act, sees our potential and helps us to rise to the occasion. Though this is not always easy, it is always good. If we could see ourselves through God’s eyes, see our challenges as well as our gifts from that higher perspective, we would be nothing but grateful.