This blog is inspired by a quote from codependency expert and self-help author Melody Beattie:
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
(Confession: Usually I tend to shy away from a lot of the self-help authors who came into the public awareness as I was growing up in the 1980s, but this quote caught my eye and wiggled its way into my consciousness!)
Just read it. And then read it again. I challenge you to not let these words expand your thoughts about the benefits of gratitude and how much of an impact it can have on your mental wellness and day-to-day life. Here are some of my thoughts on how gratitude can help us with our past, present, and future:
1) Gratitude makes sense of our past.
When I look back on many of the events that have happened in my life – especially during my somewhat-turbulent childhood – it is sometimes easy to point fingers at all of the mistakes my parents made and become angry, upset, or even feel helpless. I’m especially prone to this when I recall certain painful memories.
However, something different happens when I start with empathy – I’m better able to move into compassion and then magically, gratitude becomes a real possibility. And yes, the road to gratitude for the hard-knock life lessons can definitely take some time. Often, we don’t genuinely feel gratitude until some time has passed after these experiences.
It’s also true that when we look back at disappointments, wrong turns, and sometimes tragedies through the lens of gratitude, we find some hard-earned gifts or teachings. We are often forced to ask questions such as, How did this event change me or a relationship for the better? Did a dialogue open up that really needed to happen? Did I not receive something that I thought I needed at the time, but have now realized I am better off without? One of my best friends refers to these situations as “character builders.”
If we look back on our past with soft eyes, we see the opportunities to both learn and forgive ourselves and others.
2) Gratitude brings peace for today.
Being thankful is one of the most important ways to really notice what we do have instead of what we don’t have. Our attention is such an important commodity – why waste it by focusing on what is missing? Think of all the treasured moments that we miss when we don’t see what is right in front of our eyes? Like our daughter laughing and then laughing some more with her friends, our partner telling us about an important conversation they had at work, or our dog looking at us with love and inviting us to enjoy some fresh air while out on a walk.
When we have a gratitude mindset, we appreciate not only what we have, but who is in our lives a whole lot more. It is also a precious gift when we extend that mindset to ourselves. It makes the pathway for noticing the gifts of others more accessible as well. Think about how you feel when you believe you are enough, feel confident, and know the gifts you possess. Now switch gears for a moment and consider how you feel when you focus on your flaws, what is missing, and how you don’t measure up to others. There’s no comparison, right?
Let’s try to tap into that peaceful, content feeling when you can focus on and understand what you have to offer the world. That is what gratitude gives us – the prospect of both recognizing what we already have, and the opportunity to move forward with the support of those around us.
When we have a gratitude mindset, we appreciate not only what we have, but who is in our lives a whole lot more.
3) Gratitude creates a vision for tomorrow.
This section initially seemed like it would be the most challenging one for me to write about. How exactly does gratitude lay down a framework for the future? The first thought that occurred to me was that gratitude allows us to see into the future with more confidence. As we sit in the fuller knowledge and value of what we already have, we aren’t as worried about what might be coming. This idea can apply to many different areas of our lives.
We often think of gratitude as being thankful for our material resources. But again, think of how gratitude impacts our relationships. With it, our support system becomes more real, engaged, and accessible – the people around us know we appreciate them and don’t take them for granted. Fully understanding all of the gifts we have surely has a positive impact on our health.
Gratitude for teachings brings wisdom and knowledge back to life. It allows us to integrate those teachings into our daily lives. Gratitude also opens up our hearts – and yes, this can make us feel soft and squishy and vulnerable, but that’s when we most deeply connect and relate to each other. Our vision for tomorrow becomes more realistic (in a good way) when we take the time to thank and acknowledge everything and everyone in our lives. It becomes more than our ego speaking – it’s about our heart’s desire as well.
To conclude, I want to share one more quote with you. This one comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher who served as consul in the year 63 BCE:
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Some wisdom truly stands the test of time, and I certainly have a new appreciation for gratitude after writing this.
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