August 4, 2011

Gratitude. Get some.



Wherever we go, we can find something to complain about. When we are in the throes of the frigid, winter months, we complain about the cold and we long for the heat. When the treacherous 90 degree heat finally arrives, it makes us yearn for a cold front to cool things off.

Every year, my children count down the school days that bring them closer to summer and when it finally arrives, they whine, “I’m sooooo bored!!!” It seems we are by nature, hardwired to see what is wrong rather than what is right in nearly every scenario.

I am often astounded at the spectrum of attitudes when I listen to the viewpoints of my comrades at the police department. The recent contract settlement between the city and police union left some angry and disappointed while the response of others was, “I am grateful to have a job.” Those who choose to see the negative, focus only on the things they lose. In doing so, they become so clouded in their own negativity that they fail to see anything good in a situation. Those who make the choice to feel grateful they are employed with a roof over their head, food on their table, and a job to go to every day, enjoy a sense of peace within them. There are setbacks and disappointments that occur in life for which we have no control; however, we get to choose how we view the situation.

While investigating car accidents throughout my career, I have watched seemingly normal people transform into irrational human beings in response to a “fender bender”. I’ve always made it a point to tell the owners of the vehicles that their cars can be replaced. A car is an inanimate object made of metal but loss of life cannot be resurrected at a body shop. If no one is hurt, be thankful. If no one has died, be grateful they will recover and live to see another day. Every situation we encounter is an opportunity to place it in proper perspective.

Gratitude is such a simple concept and yet it does not come natural to many of us. We think it is an innate emotion but I don’t believe that to be so. I think some people have a natural tendency towards gratitude but the majority of people go through life with lenses that only allow them to see the worst in people and situations.

The field of psychology has been studying the effects of gratitude since 2000. Normally the field focuses on distress rather than on understanding positive emotions but gratitude has become a mainstream focus of research because empirical data has shown that people who are more grateful have higher levels of achievement, well-being, and are more satisfied with their lives and their relationships. According to Greek philosopher Cicero, ““Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”

I know many police officers who have survived life-threatening situations. Making it through a traumatic experience is sometimes the awakening a person needs to begin practicing gratitude. I say “practice” because the rest of us must make a conscious decision to live our lives being grateful. Energy goes where attention flows so our negative thoughts dictate how we see the world. However, forcing yourself to be grateful will literally alter your perspective. Rather than saying, “I have to ” replace it with, “I get to…” That one simple conscious exercise will begin to bring things into focus.

No formal education can teach you to appreciate what you have so begin your own gratitude experiment. Randomly throughout the day, find ways to express gratitude and make a concerted effort to be completely conscious of what you have. The more you practice gratitude, the more good you will do in the world.

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