You don’t get that from me, is something my mother says when I respond to a thorny challenge with optimism.
I’ve always been a glass half-full person. Even when that glass was half full of storm water - I defended its virtues. I know now that my optimism is sometimes fueled by a desire to navigate away from potential conflict or pain, and is more an unconscious strategy than a virtue.
But I also know that I am inclined to see the beauty in small things. I don't hold grudges or carry resentments. My superpower is acknowledging the strengths and beauty in others. So, you could say that neurologically, I contribute to my own experience of contentment, because these kids of gratitudes activate parts of the brain that create feeling state of happiness. In 2021, I took a VIA Character Strengths Assessment (as part of a leadership training program), and I discovered that my strongest character trait, according to VIA, was MERCY. VIA has since replaced the word Mercy with forgiveness. Forgiveness feels righter to me. Although their definitions are different, the words have an affinity with each other. I listened to a Deepak Chopra meditation on gratitude and forgiveness this morning. I was stressed out and I wanted to test the power of gratitude in a moment when felt far from my usual glass-half full self. That morning, I felt judge-y and unforgiving about something occurring in my immediate environment. Chopra said that to get to gratitude - my glass half-full state - we have to go through forgiveness. Forgiveness comes first. Forgiveness makes room for gratitude. If we aren’t holding onto resentments that block forgiveness, we give gratitude a chance to do the neurological firing that helps us feel contentment. The reverse is also true. Gratitude has the power to neutralize negative feelings and thoughts. Psychologist Jason N. Linder says, "When we’re feeling grateful, our body calms, and we feel at peace in all realms of our lives. It’s impossible to feel grateful and stressed same time. This is a basic principle in psychology called "Reciprocal Inhibition"; we can't feel two contradicting states at once." (Linder 2019) There are lots of other benefits of forgiveness and gratitude practice. And creativity is one. When we express our authentic selves without judgment, fear or shame, Chopra says, we "open the door to not only abundance, but infinite creativity which is an expression of our soul."
I started a gratitude journal with my husband when he was in recovery. And I started practicing again in earnest three years ago. I can say that sharing gratitudes with myself and in relationship to my partner makes me feel safer inside of both. And when we feel safe inside of ourselves and with our most important people, we become more courageous with our truths and more compassionate - or merciful - with ourselves and others. If you are holding on to any judgment, spinning in anxiety or a scarcity mindset - try a gratitude practice. Here are a few prompts to test the power of gratitude to fill your cup no matter how stormy the water looks! - Take a deep breath and give your self the compliments you would like to receive today - Acknowledge the current challenges you've taken on and what you are learning from them - Bring to mind the people you are most grateful for and notice the feelings that arise - Name the things that you value in your life right now, today Or do as I just did, sit with a gratitude meditation and just listen, breath and allow yourself to feel whatever comes up.