Even in the face of extreme adversity, we can still look through a lens of love.
Pure gratitude opens us to experiencing grace—that is, the awe-inspiring awareness of the gift of being alive. Through the eyes of pure gratitude, everything looks more beautiful. We are touched with awe.
I came to experience the pure gratitude of simply being after living through immense tragedy and loss: In 2008, a California wildfire took my home, a lifetime of memorabilia and the space where countless wonderful memories had taken place. Then, a year later—in the span of eight weeks—I lost my husband, my father and my youngest son. I’ve written about all of this in my memoir Six Funerals and a Wedding.
Here is what I learned for unlocking and experiencing the pure and simple gratitude of being which people may find especially helpful in these times:
Look at life through the lens of love and what is real.
If the old saying “It’s all in how you look at it” is really true, we can decide how we want to see our situation. Practice this feeling and nurture the awareness it creates. You can even have fun with it by asking yourself questions such as: Does a new car inspire you differently than the smile of an elderly neighbor you have called on to just see how she has been doing?
You can ask yourself the same question as applied to other situations, too, and make a list of the things that inspire you most. Chances are, they are not material, but instead, have to do with human connections and moments spent together with others. Appreciating the profound joy in these moments will bring immense gratitude is one key to experiencing pure gratitude.
Look around you: there is goodness everywhere, even in the most surprising places. But we tend to forget that. As a reminder, try acknowledging and celebrating this goodness wherever it is. One way to do this is to thank everybody present before a meal and acknowledge any special events that may have occurred since you were last together: birthdays, new jobs, new children or grandchildren.
Lately, during the COVID-19 crisis, I have been finding myself more aware of the importance of acknowledging events that are happening around me. The recent celebration of Cinco de Mayo, for example. With restaurants being closed to diners, many friends were doing delivery or making their own dishes. A family member suggested we make margaritas to celebrate the occasion. And I thought, why not? Why not do something special to join in the fun. We don’t make margaritas all that often but ended up having a great time together. My point is this—don’t miss your opportunity to do your version of a holiday or celebration. It puts you in the spirit of things and keeps you connected to friends and loved ones.
Surround yourself with grateful people.
There’s a saying: “We are who we spend time with.” We can influence others by being our best selves, and can become better, more grateful people by surrounding ourselves by others who do the same.
I think it’s okay to do inventories of your friendships from time to time. We are at our best and feel most grateful when we have more to give to the world. But if we find that the people we’re spending time with are making us feel drained or don’t live in a place of gratitude themselves, gratitude can be hard to experience. Allow yourself to decide how much time you’ll spend with people who have that effect on you, and to limit it as needed. On the flip side, indulge in spending time abundantly with people who you feel grateful simply to be with.
Let go of material things that burden you.
If you find yourself spending time or energy worrying about your things—how to care for them, the expenditures they require, where to store them—they are getting in the way of your experience of the gratitude of being. Letting go of them will free you to connect with gratitude more profoundly. It also brings an opportunity to remember the joy each thing once brought you, to be grateful for the memories of those times and to imagine the joy these things might bring to a new owner.
I tend to get easily overwhelmed with stuff. Something as simple as buying a new kitchen rug can feel good for a moment until I realize that I didn’t really need it. It is important to notice when enough is enough. You have everything you need.
If you like to buy pretty things, maybe look into providing them for someone else. Contact a shelter or senior center and see what they may need. That can be a very joyful experience.