Gratitude: The Swiss Army Knife of Emotions

I guess that got your attention.

It got mine.

Have you ever had a Swiss Army Knife? I had one and I loved it. It did so many different things, from unscrewing screws, to cutting fishing line, to opening cans and bottles, a nail file and scissors, too. The fancy ones even had an eating utensil. Very cool. You didn’t need a lot of tools, if you had this one multi-tool in your pocket.

I was talking to a friend last week about how tired I was a going to doctor appointments. I’m feeling fine and staying active, but I still have to visit the doctor every three months for a follow up visit. A few days prior to visiting the oncologist, I go into a blue funk. I told her that having to go to these appointments just really weighed on my mind. I was resenting having to go because it felt like I was on a leash to my past illness, and I wanted to be free.

“Maybe you should be grateful about getting to go to the doctor every three months,” she said.

“Well,” I thought, “That was blunt!”

My friend will say what’s on her mind pretty easily. While it can sometime seem harsh, I appreciate it in the long run. And after I got over my shock, this time was no exception.

As we talked, she explained what she meant.

One of the challenges about having cancer, or any serious illness, or even any setback is that when we get passed it, we want our life to go back to being the way it was.  Most of the time, it just doesn’t.  Maybe it’s similar, but still different.

And honestly, adding this past year’s COVID quarantines has just made it tougher. But then, we are all in the same boat, to varying degrees, and we’re all tired of it.

Some people call it a new normal. For me, I really get annoyed when I hear it called that.  Maybe it’s just semantics, but it just rubs me the wrong way.  I like to think of it more as season, something new, different, and changeable.

But, my friend Renie was right, our way of living never the same after a big event. You have experienced a new thing, and experience changes you. And rather than me regretting what had changed and wanting to go back, a more positive choice would be to embrace where I am currently.

She suggested that the next time I go to my appointment I look at the situation a little differently and use it as an opportunity to bring a thankful heart for all of the healing that is going on in my body and to bring some love to others in the waiting room who might be struggling.

I needed to remember to be grateful.

I must admit, that was not what I wanted to hear, but as we talked, it occurred that it was exactly what I needed to do.

I also have to admit that I was embarrassed about being a bit selfish.  I really do have so much to be grateful for these days: my life, my health, my friends, my family, my community.

Our conversation about thankfulness and gratitude was really on my mind this week. So much so that I had to make it the focus of my post. My thoughts were not going to settle down until they were in a more permanent form.

So here they are, in no particular order.

Gratitude: What is the big deal?  This was truly my first thought when my friend brought it up. I was in a resentful moment, so my thinking was geared toward “What? You want me to do one more thing? I’m mad because too much is expected already! I can’t do it!”  In my mind this was true.  I was on overload and I really wanted someone to make me feel better and not have to do anything.

And it was okay to feel that way.

It’s normal.

The thing was, I wasn’t just complaining; I was asking for a solution.

I had asked for help and I just didn’t like the answer.

Totally different animal.

Once I realized that was the case, I was stuck with moving forward. While I may have wanted Renie to wave a magic wand and fix things, that wasn’t going to happen.

It was all on me.

Our feelings are just that: ours. We are the only ones who can change them by looking for the positive or holding on to the sadness. Nobody can physically change the thoughts in our head. It’s all on us. But when you are exhausted, drained, fatigued, or hopeless, it can feel like “just one more thing.”  

The only way the situation is going to change is for you to take a deep breath and take one more step, just in a different direction.

Gratitude changes your perspective. If you are afraid, sad, or just exhausted, your thoughts tend to pull inward and turn negative. In turn, they block out any positive feelings and just cocoon your misery. When you bring gratitude into the picture, you break that cycle. Just a simple phrase such as, “I am grateful for ..” pulls you into a positive frame of mind.  It sort of flips a switch and makes it harder to go back to the bad feelings that were rattling around in your mind. All it really takes is that one happy thought.

Gratitude is a living thing. When you are struggling to be grateful, it’s okay to start small. Because that one small thought, like “I’m grateful for my dog,” grows exponentially.  It starts you thinking. You start asking “why?” “Why am I grateful?” Because he loves me and he’s always happy to see me!  “Why is it he’s always happy? “ Because I’m his friend. “Why am I special to him?” The questions grow. You start thinking in the now, and not the past. Pretty soon this small thought has grown into other bits of gratitude thinking. The emotions that gratitude stirs up feel wonderful. You want more. You give more.  You get more back. It takes on a life of its own.

Gratitude gives you hope.  Some of the most hopeful and encouraging people I have ever encountered are those who are going through troubling times. It’s during their own struggles that they have realized power of gratitude. They have felt the pull of possibilities when someone reached out to them to say, “It’s going to be okay, you’ve got this.”  Or “this is my story, yours will be a different, so just take it one step at a time.” In those words, they realize that they are never, really, alone; you have hope.

Gratitude gives you power over any situation. There is power when you are pulled into someone else’s vision of hope. It’s kind of hard to explain why or what happens; it just sort of …  infiltratesMaybe it’s is seeing the physical example of hope that does it. When I see what someone else has gone through and imagine how tough it must have been, and yet see them smile and then reach out to give me hope; how can I not be moved to do likewise? How can I not feel empowered and energized to at least try the next small step?

Gratitude is an amazing healer. Gratitude is most needed when things are not going right and you feel powerless to change them. When you say I’m grateful, then you are back in control. Many experts say that one of the best healing practices is to keep a positive mindset. It’s not so much thinking that if you have a grave illness thinking happy thoughts will take the disease away. Studies have been shown that likely isn’t the case.  But there is an inner, mental healing that goes on, so you can quiet the chaos of your thoughts. It gives the ability to calm, to focus, and to allow your body natural healing processes to go to work.

Well, these were the state of my thoughts this week. Like most of us, now that I’m seeing changes and the ability to do more with less restrictions in our community, I’ve been impatient to get going again. So I’m really trying to put some grateful thinking into practice.  It does help. It’s been taking the edge off that frustration of not being where I want to be.

But being right here is okay, too. Spring is coming, the daffodils are out, and tulips are “trying.” My neighbors are  in their yards and getting chatty again.

And I’m grateful for that.

Till next time,


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