Finding Meaning in Gratitude (For Everything)

Photo by Tomasz Rudzki

Photo by Tomasz Rudzki

We all know that gratitude practice can lead to greater happiness and wellbeing. There have been countless articles by yoga teachers and scientists alike, reinforcing this as true.

For years I thought, 'Hell yeah! I can do that. I'll just sit down and list all the things I'm grateful for and my attitude towards life will be better.' Of course, this works to some extent. When you think of the things you're grateful for, you can certainly shift a bad mood into a good mood, but what about when things don't seem so good at all? What about when it feels like the whole world is against you and there's absolutely nothing you can do to change that? How do you remain empowered by these circumstances rather than a victim of them?

Gratitude practice actually means practicing gratitude for EVERYTHING. 

Yes, everything, without exception, exactly as it is. If it's happening in your life, it is something to be grateful for. Period. 

In my own experience, the last few years have been tremendously challenging. In fact, life's been downright shitty. My brother committed suicide in January 2015. Soon after, I went through heartbreak within my circle of friends and simultaneously faced my lifelong struggle with food addiction. And now, my life is so much better BECAUSE of all of these challenges. Now I see that all of the struggles have healed me in various ways and will likely continue to heal me in ways I'm not yet aware of. 

"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

This gratitude feels like a paradox at times. Of course, I would take my brother back in a heartbeat if I could. I don't have that choice. Instead, I've chosen to trust in the circumstances I've been given.

There's no way to prove that there's meaning in everything or that there is a God or higher power or whatever you choose to call the forces beyond your sensory perception. There's also no way to prove there isn't. Based on this, we can logically choose to believe in whatever brings us a greater sense of happiness. For me, that's faith.

That's right. Faith is logical.

So gratitude practice works like this: you are grateful for everything because you realize that there's always an "AND". It's never the end (even when our bodies die, there is simply a transformation taking place). When things seem unbearable, there's an "and". When things seem perfect, there's an "and". When things seem frustrating because you just missed your train and you had an appointment and...and...and..., there's an "and". There's always something around the corner that's going to change the circumstances. Always always.

When we recognize this, we begin to take responsibility for our lives. We begin to see that on some strange (ludicrous?) level we want these experiences, these teachers. Rather than getting angry, blaming others and acting like a woeful victim, we can find meaning in everything.