Today I ran out of gas. Literally, my car came to a dead stop in the middle of the road. This is not the first time it has happened. I seem to have some kind of mental block around getting gas in my car. You would think at 43 years old, I have learned to look at the gauge when I get in the car – but it doesn’t happen. What am I thinking? Maybe that the gas fairy will magically fill my car every week? It is absurd. They say that everything happens for a reason. The obvious reason this happened was to force me to create a reminder system for myself so it never happens again. But the less obvious reason is even better.
I was in a hurry to make an appointment during rush hour in the pouring rain then suddenly my car went dead at a busy intersection. People were giving me dirty looks, gestures and beeping at me but I wasn’t stressed at all. I was sitting in the middle of chaos and I felt perfectly calm. Then I realized something.
Just before this happened, I got a call from my son’s oncologist. He had cancer last year and we had some follow up tests to make sure he was free and clear. The doctor said his tests had come back normal. I was in such a state of gratitude. I immediately started praying and giving thanks for his life. The fact that my son was ok was much more important than anything else in the world. The fact that I was sitting in the middle of an intersection with my daughter holding a sign out the window, “out of gas”, didn’t upset me or make me stressed – the sign was a little embarrassing but she had fun with it.
Why do we need an emergency or a tragedy to live in a state of gratitude? We all have families, jobs, homes and so many blessings in our lives right now. Why can’t we live in a place of gratitude 24 hours a day?
Robert Emmons, the author of thanks performed a study and found that people in the gratitude condition felt 25% happier than the people who focused on burdens. The gratitude group thought about simple things like the sun shining through the clouds and being alive.
A psychology professor at the University of Michigan regularly gave his students an unusual homework assignment. He asked them to write a “gratitude letter,” a kind of belated thank-you note to someone in their lives. Studies show such letters provide long-lasting mood boosts to the writers. Indeed, after the exercise, Peterson says his students feel happier “100 percent of the time.” (Psychology Today)
What if gratitude is the magic pill we have all been looking for to make us happy and less stressed? What if being in a state of gratefulness could make a huge difference in our lives?
I challenge you to start your day with this simple exercise. I call it your “gratefuls and thankfuls”. Wake up a little early and write down 10 things you are grateful for in your life. Then say a prayer and give thanks for each of these things. You will be amazed with the results. I have been doing this for years and it really works. It creates a positive and peaceful space that stays with you all day. If you have a really tough day, you may need to do it again…and again. But the goal is to remind yourself to live in gratitude and stop grumbling. Focus on what is right instead of what is wrong. You will never be free of problems so you might as well be happy where you are with what you have.
Today, my gas tank was on empty but I was filled with happiness because of all the blessings in my life. Simple blessings, like being alive.