Now and again, life gifts us with challenges we’d rather shun. When this happens, it’s so tempting to ignore them, to set them aside, or put them off. In the midst of small or significant crises, it’s so easy to drift into the morass of negativity, and then it seems that even unrelated issues take on ginormous proportions.
My almost-ninety-three year old mother is a survivor. She was widowed at age twenty-three and left to raise her infant on a military widow’s pension of $139 a month. She plowed her way through numerous challenges throughout those years and others after remarrying. She has been in recovery from alcoholism since 1967. A mantra she picked up from AA meetings has become her philosophy of life: an attitude of gratitude. She has embraced that so completely that it has been beyond challenging to care for her in her later years. She doesn’t seem capable of complaining. No matter what’s going on around her, if you ask her how her day was, her response is, “It was beautiful. I’m so grateful.”
I worked with the elderly most of my life. Early on, it became apparent that, as they age, a person is who they’ve always been. If they were grouchy young people, they will be even grouchier older people. And if they lived in serenity and gratitude, they will age with grace.
For those of us who drift now and again (or often) into a negative viewpoint, one simple “treatment” is that attitude of gratitude. I’ve recently discovered that when I find my thoughts taking on a darker tone, it helps to stop, observe and ask myself “What am I grateful for right now?” It may be the way the sun is shining through the trees, casting shadows on the redwood fence, or the warmth of a pet’s furry body cuddled up to you. Maybe it’s that first swallow of coffee early in the morning, or your spouse snoring contentedly in the next room. Not only does this allow you to shift gears—it’s a great practice for staying in the present moment. And for those of us who write, it heightens our power of observation. I wish I could say it’s easy to remember—it’s not. But it is one of those things that can get better with practice.