Often people ask how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs. The quick answer is that I have a choice. I can be angry about not having limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose. I chose gratitude. – Nick Vujicic
For those of you living in the United States, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a day where we often gather with family, stuff ourselves with way too much food, then watch football through the afternoon in a semi-comatose state as we recover from that big meal. Hopefully, in the midst of that we each take some time to reflect a bit on the many things we have to be thankful for.
I believe far more than a feeling, gratitude is most often a choice. It is a matter of where we put our focus. Most situations can be seen from more than one perspective.
Five years ago near the bottom of the great recession I was laid off from a job I had for 21 years. I had thought after 21 years that I would probably retire from that company but as so many have discovered in recent years the days of 30 years, a gold watch, and a nice little retirement party are almost over.
So how do you respond to something like that?
- I could have turned bitter.
- I could have complained about the unfairness of being dumped after so long a time.
- I could have been paralyzed with fear. 2009 was a scary time as unemployment was sky high and every day it seemed there was another bad report on the nightly news.
- I could have decided that while age discrimination is illegal that doesn’t mean it doesn’t subtly still happen and resigned myself to never finding a comparable job in my field.
- I could have just decided life was unfair and given up.
I will admit that many of those thoughts crossed my mind. But there is another way to look at it.
- I could also focus on many great people that I had the opportunity to work with over those 21 years and the friendships and good times we shared.
- I could focus on the generous severance package I was given that gave my family some cushion as I looked for a new job.
- I had the opportunity to pick my son up from school each day that year, something I enjoyed tremendously and an experience I would never have had if I had been working.
- I could be grateful for the many interviews I was able to get during that time even though many of them didn’t pan out.
- I am thankful I had the opportunity to teach some at a local community college which afforded me the opportunity to try out something I had always thought about doing.
- I could be very grateful that I had stumbled across Dave Ramsey a few years before so we were debt free and in fairly decent shape financially when the storm hit.
- And finally, I am especially thankful that 8 months later I was offered a job with my current employer at slightly more money than I made at my old employer.
It all comes down to where I choose to focus. I believe the key is gratitude is a conscious choice. We must deliberately choose to be grateful even when sometimes we might have to stretch to find reasons for it.
You might say it is easy to find gratitude looking back with a new job and the days of uncertainty behind you. It is a fair point. It is a lot harder to trust the sun is still shining when the storm is raging around you than it is after the storm has passed. There were certainly many days of discouragement during those 8 months. That’s why choosing gratitude is hard.
Purposely decide your focus
I want to make clear, I don’t want to minimize anyone’s situation. There are many who were laid off as I was during 2008 and 2009 and have struggled greatly in finding comparable work. Financial hardships can be devastating when we face the fear of not knowing how we will be able to provide for our family.
And beyond finances there are other situations that can be even more painful. Failing health, broken dreams and death are realities that we all face. The small town where I live was rocked this past weekend when three teenagers were tragically killed in a car accident as they lost control on icy roads. Why do things like that happen? Where could we possibly find reasons for gratitude in situations like that? I don’t know.
Sometimes though it is only in those darkest of days where we learn that when we don’t have all the answers, we serve a God who does. When we get to the end of our abilities, we find that God is still able to carry us through, even if we don’t see how it is possible.
In about 3 months I will celebrate 5 years with the company I now work for. I wish I could report it is all sunshine, but it is not. There have been challenging times. There are still things I wish were different. Life is rarely exactly as we’d like it to be. And that is a good thing. Because it is through those challenges that we grow, and one of the areas where I am still growing is learning to find reasons for gratitude in all situations.
I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful – for all of it. – Kristin Armstrong