One of the most important attributes to have is an attitude of gratitude. Marcus Tullius Cicero, famous Roman statesman, put it this way, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others1.” If you develop this attitude, it will become easier to be a human. (Because, let’s face it, being human is really really hard!)
The Gratitude Game
If we have learned anything from Mary Poppins, it’s that things are easier to do if you make a game out of them. I have many games that I have made over the years to make ordinary things more fun (like driving, waiting in line, cleaning, waiting for people to help me). One of the best games that the play is the gratitude game, which started when I was in the hospital. You can play it single player or with as many people as you want. All you do is list everything for which you are grateful without saying anything twice. As someone who was newly paralyzed, at just 18 years old, lying in a hospital bed, moving to somewhere where I had no friends or family, I never ran out of things to be grateful for.
As you find things to be grateful for, you’ll be amazed at how lucky you are! It helped me to feel that I was loved, that I was not alone, and that my life still had purpose, despite my new limitations.
Many Have It Far Worse
When I was newly injured, it was harder to be grateful. At times, it did feel like my life had been stolen. In these dark times, when it is difficult to have an attitude of gratitude, it really helps to think of people who have it worse than you.
In one of the hospitals that I stayed at, there was another young woman who had also suffered a spinal cord injury, but much higher up than me. She and her family were on vacation from a different country here in California when a car accident claimed her independence. She could not breathe on her own, could not move anything below her mouth, had a traumatic brain injury, was rendered blind, and could barely hear. Because her native country did not support those living on ventilators, she would never be able to return home. She definitely had it way worse than I did, yet she faced these dire circumstances with grace and a positive attitude. If she could do it, I could! I had way more for which to be grateful!
So, in times of despair, it helps to think that your problems are not as big as you think they are. I’m not saying that you have nothing to complain about because other people will always have it worse. I feel like it is healthy to acknowledge the way you are feeling to process through it, so don’t think of it as a way to deny the validity of your circumstances. Simply find things that you have that maybe someone else doesn’t, and take time to be grateful for those things. The other night, I woke up with a huge itch on my nose. There was nothing I could do to scratch it. I would simply have to ignore it and hopefully fall back asleep. I was just thinking, “I hope that normal people are grateful that they can scratch their own itches.” So, next time you scratch an itch, maybe you could be grateful that you can do that!
Gratitude in Action
After I got home from the hospital to my new house in California, I struggled to be dependent on others. It was hard realizing that I needed help for almost every little single thing. I was really grateful for all of the help that my family provided for me. However, one day, my sister KeriAnn told me it would be nice if I could say thank you once in a while. I was shocked! I thought I was being grateful to those around me. After I confirmed the truthfulness of her words by talking to one of my other sisters, Kristine, I knew that I had to change.
After that, I made a concerted effort to say thank you for everything. I am still far from perfect at this! Most of us are probably familiar with the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. We could assume that all of them were grateful that their circumstances had changed and they were healed. However, only one returned to express his gratitude2. If we don’t take the time to express our thankfulness, not only do we come across as entitled and ungrateful, but we are robbing ourselves of blessings that come from saying “thank you” out loud. Being outwardly thankful to others for helping us does two things: it keeps us humble and it reminds us that others like/love us enough to provide that help. It is easy to take those things for granted. Don’t do it! Say thank you.
Criticism Is the Opposite of Gratitude
I am lucky enough to have one of my best friends work for me, my youngest sister Katelynne. This works out pretty great for me because it provides a lot of flexibility if I need to sleep longer or if I want to get up later, etc. However, when you have family working for you, it can also be really difficult, because it is so much easier to be critical of someone you are familiar with rather than a stranger.
One day, I was thinking some critical thoughts about her performance as my helper. I was getting frustrated nearly to the point of tears. Suddenly, a voice in my head said this, “She is doing the best that she can. Be grateful for her.” As I thought back to all of the good things that she does for me on the daily, I was extremely humbled. I realized that I was not being thankful for her help. It was then I realized that being critical was robbing me of the opportunity of being grateful. So, ingratitude can manifest itself in many ways; one of which is criticism.
The day that I was paralyzed in a car accident, I had gone cliff jumping with friends. We had to hike a little ways to the area where we could make the jumps. As I was hiking along the river bed, I remember thinking to myself how much fun it was to be able to jump from rock to rock, and this deep sense of gratitude came over me. I specifically thought that if I were in a wheelchair, I would not be able to enjoy this beautiful day the way I was. I was grateful for my legs in that moment in a way that I have never been before. I didn’t know that that was one of the last times I would ever have to be grateful for my (working) legs, but I am so glad that I took the time to do so.
As we exercise our ability to be grateful for everything, it makes our lives so much better. Recently, I had an “attack,” which is called autonomic dysreflexia. You can look it up if you feel so inclined, but I had no idea what was causing this particular attack, and it felt like I was going to die. My mom and dad were doing everything they could to relieve my suffering, and it only seemed to get worse. The pain was so intense that I was crying. My head was pounding so hard that I could barely think. Healthwise, things had been going bad for me for quite a while. This just seemed to be one more horrible thing on top of all that I had previously suffered. It would have been easy for me to give in to the feelings of despair that seemed to be all around me. However, in that moment, I thought about what was really happening to me.
Yes, the pain was almost unbearable. But I had people who loved me serving and supporting me with all of their hearts, and with everything they physically knew how to do. My tears turned from pain to gratitude. I felt like even in the moment of darkness and suffering, that it would pass. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of that terrible experience, I felt the love of my amazing parents. I felt the love of my Heavenly Father, and I was thankful I had the opportunity to spiritually transcend the moment of pain with profound gratitude. My mom noticed that I was crying even more, and she tried to reassure me. I couldn’t tell her then I wasn’t crying because of how much I hurt, but because of how much I had.
An attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to us. However, as you exercise your mind to think of the many things you have to be grateful for, as you think of those who have it worse, and as you express gratitude to those around you, you will be able to be profoundly grateful. Not just for the good things which happen to you, but for everything. Gratitude will help you by transforming moments of darkness into pure light. I know that this is true!