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I know (we all know!) that gratitude is good for me—but it’s just so hard to practice in the heat of the moment, no?
As much as I know there are myriad compelling reasons to be grateful, I struggle to conjure up a sense of gratitude when dealing with sick kids and toddler tantrums, much less in the face of much bigger and harder things like grief and loss.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t try, and try harder than I have been. When I pray about it, I keep hearing one phrase: “grateful acceptance.”
These are some of the reasons I’m working on a mindset shift to consistently practice grateful acceptance in the coming year.
The only thing I can control
If there’s one thing nearly 10 years of parenting have taught me, it’s that control over my life is an illusion. God is writing this story and I’m just along for the ride.
Yet the one thing I can control is how I respond to the circumstances that come my way. I think of the powerful message of Viktor Frankl’s masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he writes:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Though I can’t control most things, I can control my attitude, my mindset. I can decide to gratefully accept whatever God sends. I can choose to, as we are reminded at every Mass, “Always and everywhere give Him thanks.”
Frankly, I’m terrible at holding on to thankfulness for more than a minute or two. But my resolution this new year is to notice when I’m getting annoyed or upset and remind myself, “How can I gratefully accept this?” What would it look like to accept whatever God is sending me in this moment with actual gratitude instead of irritation or indifference?
As I’ve tried it out so far, I notice a remarkable effect. Yesterday my toddler kept interrupting me when I was trying to make dinner. After the third interruption, I felt myself starting to get annoyed, so I thought, “What would grateful acceptance look like right now?”
Pausing to ask myself that was just the interior shift I needed, as I started to feel grateful for my little one’s presence. That gratitude inspired me to get a stool so she could stand next to me and help stir and mix ingredients. It was such a small change, but it improved the whole situation to make those interruptions into a positive connection and a sweet memory.
A call written on our hearts
Notice that the research doesn’t indicate that we should merely notice things that make us happy or things we like. The recommendation is specifically to be grateful. Gratitude implies the existence of a giver, a person we are thanking for the good things we have. It’s interesting to think about this: The desire to thank God is written on our hearts, so deeply we can’t shake it even if we try.
I know that finding a way to thank God in all the circumstances of my life, especially in the challenges and hardships, will make my life immeasurably better. So this year my goal is to try to change my mindset so that I default to a posture of grateful acceptance.
I know it won’t be easy, but I know I’ll feel happier, and it’s worth the effort to thank God for whatever he sends my way.