Why Is Gratitude Important?
Have you ever heard the saying, The Best Defense Is A Good Offense?
What if the best offense in your divorce (in addition to having Leigh Daniel Family Law to get you the legal outcomes you need) is actually your attitude? Have you noticed that when you are able to hold your peace and make decisions from that place, rather than your fear or anger, you are generally happier and feel more successful?
But HOW do you stay peaceful when your former partner is making life so very difficult?
“…we interpret every situation according to our unique conditioning, and that’s what determines, not only the nature of our experience but, how we feel about it…
A good attitude that’s heavily sprinkled with gratitude works on our lives like…magical fairy dust.”
-Steve and Jarl, Gratitude 24/7
Well, it sounds a bit crazy, but I’m going to agree with Steve and Jarl – gratitude really is like a magical fairy dust…adding peace and even happiness to your whole life, not just your divorce!
Can Gratitude Change Your Life?
Gratitude really does change everything. This probably isn’t news to you, but I’ll put it here in case you’re not familiar with the studies (follow the link to the article to read about the studies). According to Harvard Health Publishing:
Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Other studies show that gratitude can increase resilience – that’s probably why you’ve heard so much about it in the last few years. We ALL needed more resilience to move through the pandemic. According to Positive Psychology, “Grateful people have an advantage in overcoming trauma and enhanced resilience, helping them to bounce back from highly stressful situations.”
How to Feel Grateful When Life Feels Hard
So how do you find this gratitude when it feels so incredibly hard to do? I would propose that you start by finding just three things in your life for which you can truly feel grateful.
It can be as simple as the fact that you are safe enough to be reading this blog (wherever you are and on whatever device you are reading it!) or something as unique as being grateful for the bowl you’re eating from that you got on a trip that you took when you were young (or any meaningful object with a complicated or long history in your life). It can be as common (and as important) as being grateful you can breathe to as personal as being grateful that you took a leap and tried a new thing that ended up making your heart sing!
The key is to find one thing and feel that gratitude (and maybe even the joy it brings) through your whole body – not just using the word “gratitude” or “grateful,” but really feeling what that feels like to you personally. Then repeat the process for a second thing. Then a third. It will feel easier if you do just one at first and build up to three eventually.
You might think more is better (like I said about miracles in my last blog), right? Well, in this case, more than three isn’t necessary. In fact, forcing yourself to consider at least 10 different things for which you are grateful can be detrimental…if it’s hard to find ten things, that is. Some studies show that if you struggle to find things for which you are grateful, it can actually negatively impact the neural shift you are creating. So stick to one to three things and really go deep into the process. Three is enough to get your brain and body into the physical and neural state of gratitude.
How Gratitude Helps In a Challenging Divorce
Okay, yeah, “challenging divorce” is redundant, right? I mean, have you ever heard of a divorce that wasn’t challenging? Even my divorce was challenging and both of us were trying really hard to cooperate and make it easy. But after 20 years together, it was inevitable that splitting up would create a lot of hurt and anger.
I felt abandoned, not good enough, not loveable. So, of course, I wanted to make him feel that way, too. I’m not proud of it, but fortunately, I’d already been building my awareness and resilience, so I could see it happening. When I realized that just seeing or talking to my soon-to-be ex-husband was so painful, I knew I needed a strategy to help me stay focused on who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be able to respond to our interactions.
How Gratitude Changed My Life
I chose radical gratitude. Not radical forgiveness. I wasn’t there, yet! I chose to focus on the fact that he had given me my son and that was more important than anything he was saying or doing in the current moment. That gift was paramount.
I think I was somewhat unusual in that I had to be talked into having a child – so my then-husband waged a two-year campaign to talk me into it. He won. I gave in and we created the most amazing little human ever (yes, yes, I’m a little biased!). I definitely would not have this young man in my life if my then-husband hadn’t been so dang stubborn.
Sooo… I focused on my gratitude for his stubbornness, his dedication to talking me into the best thing that ever happened to me. Any time we were meeting (by phone or in person) and sometimes even when he sent me an email that triggered my anger or fear or sadness, first, I would feel my feelings, and then I would refocus and recommit to gratitude.
And, as you can imagine, it helped everything. He didn’t know I was doing this gratitude gig, at first. But eventually, I started actually thanking him directly for that incredibly important gift that he’d given me.
It made him feel safer in our relationship to be acknowledged for something good amid all the yuck. That allowed him to respond and act differently as well. Gratitude was truly our magical fairy dust.
We made it through the actual divorce still respecting each other. We co-parented our son respectfully and collaboratively for the last 13 years (our son is 21 now, so we’ve reached the stage of just humoring ourselves that we have any real say over anything; instead, we laugh together about our ineffectiveness, so that’s nice!).
Over the years, we have made our respectful, but distant, relationship more into a true friendship. I support him in his goals and he cheers me on as I try new things. As I write this blog, I’m actually expecting my ex-husband to come over and train martial arts with me tonight.
Can Gratitude Change Your Life?
What if you try it and find out? What if you shoot for the stars and maybe just land on the mountaintop?
What if you find one thing that you are truly and deeply grateful for from your marriage and focus on that every single time you are triggered by the situation? Even if that “one thing” is that you now know you need boundaries and have learned how to create them?
It doesn’t have to be something your partner did or said or gave you – it can be an important lesson learned through the experience of your relationship. For instance, if there was abuse or any other danger in your relationship, focusing on gratitude for your own strength or creativity may be a better approach.
It’s still gratitude and it’s still powerful.
As you enter the new year, find that one thing for which you can truly feel grateful.
Focus on it.
Feel gratitude throughout your whole body. Let that shift you as you move through all the phases of this challenging time in your life. You deserve to feel the peace and happiness it offers you.