November 24, 2016

The Three Stages of Gratefulness.

man forest hike

We are afforded so many moments.

The more of them we are grateful for, the happier, more peaceful, joyful, balanced and fulfilled we will be. As we integrate the stages of gratefulness, we will rise to meet each day passionately and with confidence. The three stages grow our gratefulness, helping us to make each moment extraordinary.

First stage of gratefulness.

I stood in the hospital room, my young wife smiling at me between contractions. I was totally overwhelmed with love as Emily was born on Labor Day, 28 years ago. Certainly that was the happiest moment of my life. But, I also remember driving home, a brand new father, blaring “We Belong Together” by Ricki Lee Jones on my car’s CD player and weeping tears of joy. That song still tickles my tender spots whenever I hear it.

Experiencing gratefulness for incredibly happy events is the first stage. This stage is accompanied by thinking only good thoughts. Being grateful for wonderful things isn’t difficult for most people. But focusing on the positive can take some practice.

Another example of first stage gratefulness is having the overwhelming honor of being by Emily’s side as she bravely gave birth to her first child. Surely that moment was in the running for the happiest ever.

But further reflection offers another over the top happy moment: meeting this small, blue eyed, energetic pixie who would become my wife. It was love at first sight at an evening seminar, and somehow I knew, at that moment, a moment that she didn’t even remember later, that I would never be the same. I had to line up the stars—and my life—so that we would meet a second and third time. A month and a half later, we made love for the first time: a wildly happy afternoon, and the beginning of what appeared to be together forever.

The second stage of gratefulness.

But, continuing to consider the happiest moment of my life becomes confusing. I think of moments that weren’t the least bit happy but are memorable, important and vital to who I am.

Memorable moments aren’t always the happy ones.

I have always been claustrophobic, and many years ago, I went spelunking with my brother and two women. This was an off-the-map limestone cave that required tight crawling in total darkness and at one point I panicked. I was stuck and couldn’t move my arms or legs, and my three companions were blocked by my crazily clawing, silently screaming body blocking the only exit from the cave. While that obviously wasn’t the happiest moment, it was certainly one of the most memorable—an intensely honest, fearful and real moment.

For weeks afterward, I was more present, alive and alert than usual.

The second stage of gratefulness includes not just happy moments, but moments when pirates boarded a friend’s sailboat near the Canarian islands off the African coast. Death appeared certain, though she was grateful her two young kids were in Germany for Christmas. No matter how horrible a moment, gratefulness is there. A larger, more tempting ship appeared in the nick of time and the pirates were gone.

Second-stage moments are the ones in which were were a little more present, and that were intense or formative enough to be influential.

We can greatly expand what we are grateful for by blurring the line between happy and sad and good and bad, and embracing all memorable experiences that make up stage two.

The third stage of gratefulness

Amazing experiences and terrible experiences may grab our focus as we consider moments to be grateful for, but they are actually few and far between. They are far outnumbered by moments that don’t appear to have anything special about them at all.

We might call these ordinary moments—like when we are standing in line at the grocery store, lying in bed or taking a walk. There moments may not seem important by the content or intensity of them but by the sheer number of them they are the building blocks of a life well lived. There really are no ordinary moments.

In the third stage of gratefulness, we experience being delighted and pleased with any moment no matter how mundane or common. With appreciation for any moment, stage three brings a whole lot more gratefulness, love, fullness and happiness.

In stage three, we discover that gratefulness really isn’t circumstantial at all; it is an inside job, and it can appear any time. It doesn’t have to be your first ever hot air balloon ride or the thrilling jump out of a plane with a parachute. It is just as likely happen while sweeping the floor, driving down the road or sitting quietly watching the sun set.

It isn’t what happens that determines our gratefulness, but us. Stage three has us discover that being grateful is who we are, it isn’t something that we do. It doesn’t need special conditions—being alive is being grateful.


Author: Jerry Stocking

Image: Mayla Wind/Flickr 

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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