By: Tara Teeling
How often do we hear that we should be grateful for the good things in our life, only to roll our eyes dismissively because it seems for every good thing, there are at least 10 not-so-great things to give our undivided attention to? Sure, we’re all grateful for our family, or our pets, our health and, if we’re lucky, financial stability, but can we honestly say that we acknowledge our gratitude each day?
According to my.happify.com, practicing gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things we’re thankful for can enhance positive emotions, help us feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. With so many benefits to expressing thanks, why wouldn’t we make an effort to do it as often as possible?
Recently, I had an experience that caused me to experience genuine gratitude. After a long day at work, I was feeling fatigued and a little irritable; the only thing motivating me to tackle the drive home through the cold, blue night was the vision of myself at home, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of hot tea in hand to warm me. I sailed along the darkened streets, counting the moments until I would be coming to my own driveway, until, seemingly without any warning, I came to a complete stop: I managed to find myself right in the middle of a traffic jam, and it didn’t look like I would be making it home any time soon.
Immediately, I felt myself overcome with anxiety and rage: why was this happening? Who was responsible for this? All I wanted was to be home with my family, out of the cold, with that blanket to keep me warm and happy. Surely, this wasn’t too much to ask? Never mind that I was safe, that I had a warm coat on and a charged phone in my purse. It didn’t matter that I had enough gas in my tank, because all I was thinking that I wanted to get home.
After ten minutes of idling in the same spot, my impatience got the best of me and I abruptly turned on to a side street and parked. With a dramatic sigh, I turned off the engine and got out, slamming the door (because that always helps), and decided to take a short walk. Rarely do I take impromptu walks, especially in the middle of my route home, and certainly not when it’s cold outside, but since I couldn’t go anywhere, it seemed like the only thing to do. I am fairly certain I was stomping my feet, not unlike an angry toddler, but I could see I wasn’t alone: in most of the cars idling on the street in front of me, people looked angry, frustrated, even desperate. At least I wasn’t waiting in line, anymore.
I came upon a coffee shop I had seen before, in a building I’d always admired from afar, but had never had the occasion to enter. Yet, here I was, standing right in front of it, and all I could smell was the gorgeous scent of fresh-brewed coffee and baked goods. It certainly beat the scent of car exhaust and my own festering anger. I walked in, and immediately noted the charm of the place, with its old, stone walls and the easygoing nature of the staff and patrons. The young lady at the counter beamed at me with a genuine smile, remarking on the cold outside before asking what she could get me. I absent-mindedly ordered a hot chocolate, because chocolate tends to solve a lot of my problems, and I was hoping it would do the trick on this occasion. After a few moments, she handed me the cup, and inside was the most delicious, frothy, creamy hot chocolate I had had in a very long time. I took a sip, smiled, and thanked her before making my way back to my vehicle. Once I got back into the driver’s seat, I remained parked, and I let myself enjoy the warmth and sweetness without looking at the street and worrying about how or when I was going to get home. I began to feel calmer, more focused, and while this kind of approach does not always do the trick, I was grateful that on this occasion it did. I turned on the radio, listened to music, and looked around at the beautiful buildings illuminated by the street lights.
Why did I get so worked up before this? How did I let myself get so frustrated that I could barely see straight? It was simple: I was thinking about what I wanted, instead of what I had.
I was grateful for the hot chocolate. In fact, I was even grateful for the traffic problems that allowed me to discover my new favourite coffee place. I was grateful to discover that I could reach a high level of aggravation and bounce back from it swiftly and neatly, and that after a long day at work, I still had the energy to take a short walk in the cold and appreciate it afterward.
By some kind of miracle, when I started my engine, the traffic had cleared, and I drove home without encountering a single red light. You may call that chance, but I prefer to think it’s the effect of gratitude.
What are you grateful for?