The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings. ~Henry Ward Beecher
Every morning when we wake up, we get to choose whether to see our glasses as half full or half empty. I imagine we’ll all agree that some days, an optimistic, positive attitude is hard to come by. Caregivers face emotionally and physically exhausting challenges on an hourly basis, and there are plenty of mornings when we dream of being able to pull the covers over our head and hide from the world.
Fill Your Glass
Unfortunately, no matter how attractive that escape sounds it’s probably not going to happen, which leaves us back at the choice I mentioned above. The good news: there is something we can fill our glasses with and it doesn’t cost a thing. That special ingredient is gratitude.
Yes, as cliché as it may sound, researchers have shown that humans actually possess the ability to consciously cultivate gratitude. Not only that, but doing so can increase happiness, reduce stress, and improve physical well being, and when we express our gratitude to others, we boost our own optimism even more.
Growing a Garden of Gratitude
Stay with me for a minute, because I’m going to guess right about now you’re thinking I’m nuts. You were up all night with a wandering parent, just had breakfast thrown at you, and all you can think about is how much you miss your BA (before Alzheimer’s) loved one. I completely understand; there are many days – maybe even most days – when gratitude is the furthest thing from your mind.
This is where the idea of conscious cultivation comes in. When we plant a garden, we must remember to water it each day, and growing gratitude is no different. The more deliberate we are, the more we’ll realize that even in the darkest moments, there are blessings. Find a few minutes each day to sit quietly and ponder those blessings, or better yet, write them down. You might keep a small notebook next to the bed and jot down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day.
It’s the Little Things
I’ve been amazed at how this exercise can intensify our awareness of life’s simplest pleasures. Let’s face it folks, every night we aren’t going to have “won the lottery” as one of the items on that gratitude list! The beauty of this exercise is that it reminds us to pay attention to everyday things like how happy we feel when the dog greets us at the door or how beautiful that blooming rosebush is.
On a good day, you might write, “Mom said ‘I love you’ today.” To the average person, even that’s probably a “little thing,” but when Mom has dementia and rarely speaks, hearing those three words IS like winning the lottery! Another day, you might be thankful you were able to have lunch with a friend or spend an hour alone reading a great book. Some days, finding just one tiny thing to be grateful for will be a challenge, but don’t let that stop you.
Watch the Blessings Multiply
Try it for just a week, and see if you notice a difference. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think you’ll be astounded at the blessings you’ll begin to recognize in your life. Give it a whirl, then stop back and leave a comment about your experience. We’d love to hear your thoughts!