“Tossed by the waves.” Isn’t it a perfect metaphor for that feeling of getting hit with one thing after another? So when that happens what we all need is a good strong rope tied to the mainland to avoid getting washed out to sea.
A simple and effective tether in times of transition or stress is gratitude practice. It has amazing power to connect us to everything and everyone. Here’s some data from Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, (Emmons & McCullough, 2003):
• In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. • Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions. • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
Kathryn Britton, in her article on the Role of Gratitude at Work on the Positive Psychology News Daily Website, cites Lyuobomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2006) who contend that one’s chronic happiness level is determined partly by a genetic baseline or set point (50%), partly by circumstances (10%), and partly by intentional activity (40%). Thus, “practicing gratitude is an intentional activity that can make a real and ongoing difference in chronic happiness levels.”
Kathryn suggests these methods for practicing gratitude:
• Pay attention to good things, large and small. • Pay attention to bad things that you have avoided. • Establish regular times to focus on being grateful. • When facing a loss or a difficult task or situation, remind yourself to be grateful both for what you haven’t lost and for the strengths and opportunities that arise from facing difficulties. • Elicit and reinforce gratitude in the people around you.
I would add that it helps to remember how many people have created or made possible what you experience every day. If you fly, for example, think of the many people who built the plane, inspected the plane, fly it, have made the seats, bottled the water, etc. This practice provides a reminder of the web of support that we live in and contribute to daily—and normally don’t notice.
And finally, read poetry. In David Whyte’s beautiful poem Everything is Waiting for You, he writes (with gratitude, I imagine) about the support he feels from the world. Here’s an excerpt from his poem:
…Surely, even you , at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.