More than a year ago Chel Micheline wrote her first guest post for Bliss Habits. I thought it would be fun to revisit this post during our Hiatus this week!
I couldn’t be more delighted to have Chel of Gingerblue sharing her perspectives on gratitude today. Her blog is a gorgeous place of deep thought and beauty, we both love Disney and parent little girls, and upon finding Bliss Habits she jumped right in and joined one of the Saturday hops ! so how couldn’t I be enchanted?! I think you will be moved by her perspective. Take it away Chel:
by Chel Micheline - http://gingerblue.com/
Gratitude and I are not really the best of friends. We’ve had a long and challenging relationship, and for several years I turned my back on gratitude completely, not remotely interested in having anything to do with it. So I guess it’s ironic that gratitude has become such a big focus for me these days.
I was born with a pretty serious disease, but despite the scary diagnosis, I thrived. The doctors were confounded, but my parents were overjoyed. And they were very, very grateful. And they expected me to be grateful, too.
Let me say this- when you are a ten year old who is spending yet another summer on bed rest, elevating your leg over your head after another round of painful surgery which forced you to skip the second half of the school year, you don’t really feel too grateful. In fact, you feel like you got a pretty crappy deal from life.
But anytime I started to voice my frustration, I was reminded that I *needed* to feel gratitude. I can’t tell you the amount of times I heard “it’s only a cast on your leg and not a full body cast- it could be so much worse!”
So gratitude became a little spooky to me- sort of a desperate plea for mercy thrown out to the Universe and/or God. I started worrying that if I wasn’t constantly saying thank you for the struggles I had, life would get worse. But having to be grateful for pain just never made sense to me.
And as I grew older, and went to college and graduate school, and then went off into the “real world”, I was finally able to honor my feelings. I did feel enormously blessed by life, but I expressed it by living fully and embracing things head-on.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when I started becoming interested in positive psychology and neuroscience. I wanted to be a good model for my daughter and figure out the basics of well-being and maybe even start working towards serious inner peace. I researched everything from hard science to religious fringe- I just wanted a general consensus.
And the one piece of advice that was shared consistently, across the board was this:
Yikes! Of course, I resisted, and moved on to other chapters and sections and passages. But everything always began and ended with the recommendation of a regular gratitude practice.
Finally, after coming across it for the millionth time, I needed to find out why the heck gratitude was considered the “end-all-be-all” of well-being. What I found out was that it has to do with brain chemistry and neurons. Quite simply- by allowing ourselves to feel gratitude, we allow our brains to define the very basic things that affect our life in a positive way.
This was all well and good, but it was the whole “feel gratitude” thing I was still caught up on. After a few weeks of mulling it over, I had an “a-ha moment” – I was looking at it wrong. I realized I needed to start from scratch and COMPLETELY redefine what “feeling gratitude” meant.
I discovered that gratitude does NOT have to be some big gesture of emotion, some overwhelming sense of awe at all the amazing gifts and miracles surrounding you. For me, “feeling gratitude” needed to be a simple way of recognizing what’s good in my life, from the absolutely mundane (lots of these) to the complex and extraordinary (not so many of these).
Gratitude can simply be a feeling of “okay”, or “hey, I like this a lot.” Gratitude can be a sense of relief- a simple cup of coffee every morning. The feeling of sliding between the sheets after a particularly long day. A great book and fifteen minutes of quiet to read. Gratitude can be something soothing- a fluffy towel after a hot shower. Gratitude can be something silly- a bizarre and random thing your kid says to you out of the blue. Gratitude can be something refreshing- fresh air from an open car window.
As I’ve practiced all this, I found that there are two “rules” to stick to:
Rule number one: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
Your participation in this process has to be authentic. If you aren’t feeling the whole “I’m so grateful for fresh running water and my family and my job and a roof over my head!”, then by all means, don’t try to force yourself to feel that. That’s not genuine or authentic, and that sort of gratitude will strain you and make you less able to pick up on the real and subtle things that are bubbling below the surface. It’s really okay NOT to feel constant gratitude for all the things in your life. I promise!
And rule number two: FIGURE OUT THE SPECIFIC REASON *WHY* YOU FEEL GRATITUDE.
Anyone can make a laundry list of things to be grateful for on command. “Family, friends, my job, my health, running water, pantry full of food, my car, access toŠ.”. Newsflash: those are things we are sort of trained to be grateful for.
If you force yourself to step back and examine the details of why you feel gratitude for something, *THAT’s* where the magic is. Let me tell you, your nightly laundry list of “things I am grateful for” has absolutely nothing on one simple but extremely genuine and deeply felt moment of gratitude that is expressed.
As I started working on my own gratitude practice, I realized that I wanted to know more about other people and their gratitude: What small, simple things brought someone comfort today? What made someone feel a little more okay? Is it one thing, or ten things, or two HUGE thing or five tiny things?
Thus, the Common Miracles project was born. Quite simply, it’s a group of people who blog their gratitude lists. A few people are on board, but I’d love to have many more join us. I am truly doing this because I BELIEVE (and trust me, I don’t say this about many things) in the power of a simple and authentic gratitude practice, and I strongly believe that if we share the little, ordinary things that make our hearts sing a little bit, maybe someone else out there will notice a little ordinary thing that makes her heart sing a bit, and her life gets better.
Let’s change gratitude. Let’s make it simpler. Let’s make it a little more meaningful. Let’s make it genuine. Let’s make it more about the true gifts of life and how they touch us every single day.
Common Miracles community posts are every Monday at http://gingerblue.com – please join us on Monday and share your list. You never know who might see it and be inspired.
Chel Micheline is an artist, art historian, writer, mother, wife, and animal-rights advocate who is easily amused by reading, swimming very long distances, gardening, meditating, writing, and puzzling things out. Oh, and playing with paint.