StressStop Blog

Cultivating Gratitude And Being Thankful

Jim Porter, M.A.L.S., President, StressStop.comTuesday, December 4th, 2012

I went to yoga class on Thanksgiving morning, and when it was over a woman next to me announced with a smile: "Now I can go home and face my in-laws." There's always a bit of a release at the end of a good yoga class where you just kind of let go of whatever it is you are holding on to. The same thing happened to me in a yoga class I took the day before hurricane Sandy rolled through Connecticut. I remember walking into that class feeling anxious and tense and walking out feeling much more at peace and at ease.

woman driving talking on cell phone
When we multi-task, we divide our finite amount of attention

NOTHING about the path of the storm had changed. But I had changed. I was a different person after that class. And that is one of the fundamental concepts of yoga and mindfulness, too. Everything changes all the time. The weather changes, our bodies change and even mountains made of granite change, albeit slowly. When we cling to the illusion that things DON'T change - which we do all the time - we only make ourselves miserable.

One way to cope with change is to foster an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude really can help you move through life's changes and difficult times with greater ease. During Hurricane Sandy - even though many people I know had been through this horrific storm and afterwards were dealing with no power and no heat, and sometimes not even being able to stay in their houses, most people that I talked to were extremely grateful.

Usually when people survive a terrible car accident, even though their car might be totaled, they talk about how grateful they are. We soothe ourselves with this gratefulness and it really helps us cope with trauma and change.

A tree that has fallen.
Around the corner from my house.

I remember thinking after Sandy that I had never been without power for this long in my entire life, yet I was still VERY grateful that it wasn't MUCH WORSE. I surprised myself that I could capture that sense of "bless in the mess."

Even during the week that the power was off I was cultivating an attitude of gratitude and so were most of the people who I knew, who were still without power. I was grateful that it wasn't colder at night. I was grateful that my neighbor allowed us to plug our refrigerator into his generator. I was even grateful to have some quality time with my family, sitting around the fireplace, trying to stay warm and reading by flashlight or candlelight.

It's easy to find things to be grateful for, and the more you do this, the better you get at it and the better you will feel. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is centered around the somewhat old-fashioned notion of being grateful. In terms of managing stress, though, there's nothing old-fashioned about cultivating an attitude of gratitude, it's totally cutting edge.

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