A Different Take on Gratitude

By Samantha Schilke; November 1, 2019

I am an active practitioner of gratitude.  It’s not a mindset for me, it’s a habit that took practice and repetition to form.  Surprisingly, one of the best lessons on gratitude for me came from some of the most difficult times in my life.

“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate; when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

Three years ago I finally understood the phrase, “When it rains, it pours.” It was pouring in my life.  It was my last semester of college and in the span of a year I watched a family I cared about lose their father, my significant other suffer a traumatic injury that left him unable to walk for three months, a friend commit suicide directly after leaving a small gathering I hosted, and my grandfather’s final decline and passing.  That year included some of the hardest moments in my life, but it also contained some of the most beautiful.

During that year I was able to support and help a family I cared deeply about.  During that year my significant other told me for the first time that he wanted to marry me.  During that year I developed a deep, active gratitude for my life, my health, and my family.

Gratitude is a concept we’ve talk about consistently in TeamStrength.  We’ve shared ways gratitude positively affects your life from your health to your relationships.  And we’ve shared practices of gratefulness from a gratitude journal to thanking someone in your life every day.  But sometimes gratitude comes from hardships, and you can move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.

As humans, we are wired with a negativity bias – an evolutionary instinct to look out for threats so we can escape life unharmed.  In today’s world, this makes sense in only a few occasions like driving a car or crossing the street.  In theory we should be able to switch our brains to the gratitude side.  But that’s not how life works.  Gratitude is not an automatic attitude, it’s a well-practiced skill.

Being grateful can be as simple as a reminder to reset your thoughts, similar to meditation.  When we move past the pain or frustration or irritation and choose instead to look at the positive, we can broaden our perspective of the world around us.  From my hardships, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for my health, and the health of my family, and for the ability to keep moving forward.

“Gratitude should not be just a reaction to getting what you want, but the kind where you notice the littler things and constantly look for the good, even in unpleasant situations.  Start bringing gratitude to all your experiences, instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful.”  Marelisa Fabrega

I practice active gratitude through daily habits as simple as a reminder on my phone to tell my fiancé one thing I love about him.  A reminder that became invaluable when I applied to myself (when was the last time you took a minute to think about something you love about yourself?).  I also practice active gratitude through daily walks outside.  The more time I spend experiencing and appreciating the beauty of the world around me, the more I notice the beauty every day.

Maybe your gratitude looks like a daily journal or a stone you keep in your pocket as a reminder or a nightly ‘savoring walk’ outside.  Maybe it’s a log of ‘thank yous’ to your team members each day for a year.  It could be going on a run or spending time gardening or cocktails with your spouse/brother/mother.

The next time you find yourself saying “thanks” automatically, try to slow down and really think about why.  Form an active habit of gratitude and your lens of the world will positively shift.