Finding Gratitude Beyond My Circumstances

Photo Credit: Ben Seidelman, Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Ben Seidelman, Creative Commons

I’ve not always been very good at being thankful. In fact, for many years of my life, I felt like I’d been dealt the short end of the stick in life, that my circumstances were more difficult than everyone else’s.

How was I supposed to be thankful when all my friends had more money, more stuff, more influence, more excitement, more adventure and more popularity than I did?

Needless to say, I hardly even recognize that girl anymore. In fact, when I think about it, I’m a little embarrassed.

But the craziest part is, my ability to feel thankful now doesn’t come from improved circumstances. In fact, if anything, I have less money, less stuff, and less popularity than I did when I complained about those things.

Still, one major thing has changed. I’ve learned that gratitude isn’t dependent on my circumstances. Gratitude is like a muscle, and the more I learn to flex it and to exercise it, the stronger it becomes, the more gratitude I feel, and the deeper that gratitude reaches, even when my circumstances don’t warrant it.

I’m still learning, but this is what gratitude looks like for me.

I recognize everything I have is a gift.

This has been a major shift in perspective for me, maybe because I grew up in a culture that taught me my needs and wants were more important than everyone else’s, and that I deserved to have those needs and wants met. Or, maybe I didn’t need culture to teach me this. Maybe this is just the darkness that comes, when we let it, out of the human heart.

Either way, I’m learning to see everything I have as more than I deserve.

I’m learning it’s okay to want things.

For so many years I convinced myself wants were bad — after all, I was never going to get what I wanted anyway, and if I admitted my wants out loud, they would just made me look selfish (I was). But pushing my wants away or pretending like they didn’t exist wasn’t getting me anywhere. In fact, my selfish wants were just festering and rotting inside of me.

I wasn’t getting better. I was getting worse.

It wasn’t until I learned to admit what I wanted, to talk about why, and to throw my whole weight into pursuing the things that mattered, that I learned what I really wanted wasn’t so far outside of my grasp.

I started saying it before I felt it.

For a long time I resisted this because it felt inauthentic. I had many friends in my life who were eternal optimists, and I respected them, even wanted to be like them in a way, but every time I opened my mouth to say words like, “Even though this isn’t ideal, I’m thankful…” it felt like I was lying. It felt like I wasn’t being myself.

Since then I’ve discovered that sometimes it starts with words, and the feelings slowly follow. Sometimes we have to change the stories we tell ourselves before the realities we feel can catch up.

Sometimes we have to put words to something before we can believe it exists.

I focus on the small things.

My mom calls them TJs. Tiny Joys. I like that. And at the end of the day, if I talk to my mom on the phone, she will likely have half a dozen “TJ’s” she could tell you about from her day. TJ’s don’t have to be extravagant or outlandish. In fact, they rarely are. They’re usually things like running into an old friend, a favorite song on the radio, or something funny someone said at work.

What I’ve found is that, when I focus on the small reasons to be grateful in my life, even when they might feel miniscule or unimportant, usually, after awhile, they add up to something big.

And it’s happening. Slowly, but surely, my gratitude muscle is become more pronounced. I hope yours is, too.

12 comments on “Finding Gratitude Beyond My Circumstances

  1. Just wanted to say, this is spot on, and a good reminder. I have experienced how much thankfulness can change your life, but sometimes we forget things like this after a while… thank you 🙂

  2. I agree with the above from Tim. I can relate to much, and recognize how selfish my attitude has been often. Gratitude has become a practice over this past year and with intention and focus, it has become a more natural part of my life. Thank you for sharing, I am a work in progress…

  3. This is so true because The Bible also taught us, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:18). I am still on learning how to be grateful everytime in every situations. You said it right, I have to exercise the “muscle”. And enjoy little things is one of my way to learn it (:

  4. Such a great post, Allison — that you’d be vulnerable enough to admit how difficult it was for you to be grateful.

    I grew up in an area that was filled with affluence, but our family was not affluent. So I lived my early years feeling the same things of things that you did — unfair, short end of the stick and all of that.

    It wasn’t until I became a Christian that I realized that it was possible to be satisfied with less, and to be honest — I embraced that with open arms.

    Jesus says, “if you want to be the greatest, you must be among the least.”

    I wish that growing up I could have had that kind of knowledge under my belt, because I probably would have saved myself a ton of heartache.

    When it all comes down to Thanksgiving and gratitude, Bill Hybels said something in a message that many years ago that has stuck with me.

    “No matter what anyone else has, I have more than I deserve.”

    There’s so much truth in that, we just need to embrace it every day.

    Wishing you and Darrell a very special and wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Great post. Especially enjoyed the “speak it first, and sometimes speaking it makes it become true” part of the story. Teaching ourselves to recognize and acknowledge the little things. Changing our perspective.

  6. I love this Allison! Especially the T.J.’s When we fail to respond to all those little joys throughout the day, we are ill-prepared for the hard things. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

  7. Bless you, Alison! Tiny Joys is a concept that’s right up there next to gazingus pins. If we focus on our tiny joys, our gazingus pins won’t call us so loudly. Thank you very much – I’m grateful for you and your email newsletter.

  8. So beautiful, Ally! What I loved the most about this post was {well, everything} but what stuck out the most was the line: “I recognize everything I have is a gift.”

    YES. I am finding that myself these days. I notice that I’ll be washing dishes and will look around and feel grateful for everything I have. I love my life and even when bad things happen, or unfortunate circumstances, I’m learning to appreciate the good in things.

    Thank you for this and Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. This is a thought provoking post. It helps me to keep in mind that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting something. I think it’s when everything else gets tossed out the window that right and wrong becomes an issue. I have decided not to be defined by circumstances; circumstances do change.

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