Falling in Love Again with Life, Part 2: Gratitude

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One of the most healthful of all attitudes toward the world and our experience of the world is gratitude. To view being alive as a kind of miracle, to consider our ability to experience the world in all its variety as a blessing, is itself a blessing. The development of my own sense of gratitude is yet another outgrowth of my near-death experience (NDE). Before, I had been doing something we are all prone to do at times, which is to take the world for granted. Caught up in our daily lives and concerns, we too often forget how amazing and sweet the world actually is in its countless facets. But when you start loving life again, gratitude comes as naturally as flowers come after spring rains.

Gratitude is always an offshoot of love. We all know from our experience that when we love someone we are deeply thankful for that person’s existence and reality. In fact, gratitude is so closely tied to love that we could say it is actually an aspect of love. After all, when we are thankful to someone for doing something in our favor, don’t we have a feeling toward that person that is akin to love? So it works both ways: we are thankful when we love, and we love (or at least have a feeling like love) when we are thankful. It’s natural, then, if we are in love with life, to feel gratitude toward what life brings us, to be thankful for the world’s many wonders, large and small—the majestic mountains and the tiniest wildflower, the immense ocean, the expansive sky, the raindrop that falls on our cheek.

There are only two alternatives to being thankful for life and the world’s gifts. One alternative is to despise life, which is the opposite of love. Those who despise their lives are probably in great pain in some way. Their body may be wracked with pain so badly that they long to escape living. Others experience severe mental and emotional distress that causes them to turn their backs on life. People in great emotional distress often despise themselves. The fundamental reason they don’t feel at home in the world is that they don’t feel at home with their perception of who they are. Such caustic self-images almost always begin in childhood, which is why it is so important to teach our children their infinite worth.

The other alternative to feeling gratitude toward life and the world is what I mentioned above—simply taking the marvels of living for granted. Life’s wonders often fade into the background because we are always thinking about how we can use the things and people that enter our experience to get what we want. The world and its many facets become tools for our use, and we fail to appreciate them for the precious gifts they are in themselves.

Childhood is different, at least for many of us. When we are children, the world is fresh, constantly showing itself in novel ways. The discovery of something new and fascinating seems to be around every corner, every tree and bush. In my own childhood, I was fascinated by nature. I recall many days out exploring the area around my home, wading in frog-filled ponds, wondering about the beautiful lotus flowers that floated so serenely on the water, like a cloud. I loved my childhood and I know I felt a deep sense of appreciation for my experiences, though I couldn’t articulate it at the time. But I lost much of this attitude of appreciation as I got older. In that, I am like many others who, as they mature, start trying to realize their dreams of success in one field or another. While doing so, their sense of gratitude may gradually dissipate.

But my sense of gratitude is back in force, and for that, too, I am very thankful. There are excellent reasons to return to something akin to the early, wide-eyed appreciation of the world we had as children. One of course, is that doing so is a blessing in itself. It puts us on the side of life and makes us feel connected to and at home in the world. Another main reason is that appreciating the world and its rich offerings is good for our health. It gives us a sense of well-being, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves immune system functioning, and just makes it more difficult for worry or anxiety to get the better of us.

There are a number of things we can do to nurture our sense of gratitude toward the world. Two of the best ways you already know. One is to stop and smell the roses, which means to consciously slow down and open ourselves up, with a sense of expectation, to what we are experiencing at each moment. We can give the world a better chance to show its wonders if we calm the chatter in our minds. The second is to count your blessings, which means to meditate on what we can be thankful for in our lives. I, for example, am thankful not only for simply being alive and for my beautiful family, but for countless other things, as simple as a glass of water when I’m thirsty, the sight of a hawk circling in the sky, or the smile on the face of a friend.

One simple way to develop greater appreciation for all the blessings in your own experience is to sit in a quiet spot and make a list of all the many things, great and small, that you have to be thankful for. A warning, though—once that list is started, it could go on for days and days.

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