“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. – G.K. Chesterton
Row Your Boat
“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.” I grew up hearing and repeating the above rhyme in nursery school. From the tune to the words, it was an infectious rhyme. As I reflected on it through the years, I realized life as a dream is ideal for a rhyme, but in reality, it does little to help interpret life’s events.
This year has been anything but a dream for many. It has brought tremendous losses and subitaneous setbacks. And with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases around the world and new restrictions enforced or planned, the latest news regarding vaccine availability is encouraging. In spite of this, it’s easier to row the boats of our lives downstream towards the waterfall of negativity. It requires little to no energy to hold a negative outlook. The downside is it robs us of the opportunity to carry a positive outlook. The decision to either row upstream or downstream, to remain in negativity or journey into positivity is a personal choice, as we are products of our decisions, not our dilemmas. Applying gratitude to our lives means we are willing to go upstream.
Down or Up
Gratitude is an upstream action. Choosing the upstream option of gratitude in a downstream year can change the incline of your heart and mind. But rowing upstream requires nisus. It means going against the tide and fighting the relentless waves intent on driving you downstream to the path of negativity. Gratitude calls for the courage to extract what is valuable out of the mundane of life, like precious metals and other valuable materials are extracted from the earth. This extraction of gratitude from every day living bears the potential to give us resilience in the face of tough times.
The Value of Gratitude
I have made it a practice to begin and end each day with a sentence of gratitude. I also intentionally recognize and verbalize small things throughout the day for which I am grateful. Applying gratitude to my day changes how I see the day and view people. My perspective is elevated. My heart is enlarged. Self-centeredness is crushed. I discover a desire to be generous and serve others. The problems that once appeared gigantic shrink in the face of gratitude. Through the expression of gratitude, we forge deeper relationships.
Additionally, gratitude allows us to be participants in life instead of being critics. Criticism can be constructive, but when it is always turned on, it leads to the toxic fumes of cynicism. Gratitude keeps at bay downstream thoughts of resentment, envy, worry, and even reduces depression. Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude, says it “heals, energizes, and transforms lives.” On the heels of understanding the value of gratitude, what tools do we need to continue rowing the boat of our lives upstream? I want to highlight two oars that are instrumental. Just like oars steer a boat through the water, the following oars will help us steer our lives towards greater gratitude.
Oars of Gratitude
Recently in the news, there have been intense discussions surrounding the use of facial recognition in law enforcement. According to a New York Times article, the discussion posits that facial recognition software “misidentifies people with darker skin and contributes to police bias against black communities.”
As the opponents and proponents of the software continue to argue, we cannot debate the value of gratitude recognition. The more we recognize opportunities to be grateful, no matter how small, the greater our potential to reap the benefits of gratitude. Dr. Alex Korb, the author of The Upward Spiral, talks about activating the gratitude circuit in our brains. Activating this circuit, according to Dr. Korb, allows you to “pay more attention to the positive aspects of reality, helping you get a bigger boost from all the wonderful things in your life that are so easily overlooked.” Challenge yourself each day to intentionally be on the lookout for moments that will activate your gratitude recognition circuitry and verbalize them.
Cultivating gratitude is cemented through expression. There are multitudinous ways to verbalize or express gratitude. When someone holds the door open for you, acknowledging the gesture of kindness with a “thank you” can make an impact. Writing a thank you note and mailing it to a friend might reach them at a time when they really need it and make a difference in their life. Plus, it will make a difference in yours. Expressing appreciation during dinner to your spouse or family at the end of the day can change the atmosphere in a home. Recalling an act of kindness that someone did in the past and letting them know about it can do wonders for a friendship or relationship. After a job interview, send the interviewer a thank-you email regardless of whether you get the position. These acts of verbalizing gratitude will speak value into other people’s lives while at the same time refreshing your own. This synergistic benefit of gratitude makes it worth rowing upstream.
Final Thought: This may be hard to believe, but if you are alive, you always have something for which you can be grateful. Pointing it out may be difficult at times because of the waves coming your way. By taking the oars of recognition and verbalization, you will develop the ability to row your boat upstream in gratitude. A higher quality of life is yours when you choose an attitude of gratitude. If ever you find yourself drifting in a litany of negativity, locate your oars and row your boat.
Keep on Keeping on!
My next blog post will release on Thursday, December 3rd.