By Carey and Trevor McLaughlin
I have had a sticky note on the inside of my kitchen cupboard for years on which I wrote:
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire lifetime is thank you, it will be enough.”
I don’t remember when or where I read that quote, but it resonated with me at some point in the past enough for me write it down.
There is a lot of recent research surrounding gratitude and how it is strongly associated with greater happiness. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships” according to one article I read from Harvard Health Publishing from August of 2021. Keeping a gratitude journal, expressing your gratitude to others, or simply mentally noting your gratitude have proven to be beneficial.
Jack Kornfield, a well-known meditation teacher, ties gratitude to mindfulness. “To be mindful is to see the world as it is without judgments. It is responding to the world rather than reacting to it. Gratitude helps us be fully present and attentive to our surroundings.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in the world could see people with disabilities without judgements like those at Gigi’s Playhouse do?
My grandmother used to say that “everyone gets some bird song and some bird sh*t in life. The challenge is how to turn the bird sh*t into bird song.” This was her way of encouraging gratitude. I don’t know if this is something she made up or if someone famous said it, but my kids always thought it was hilarious that their great grandma was saying a swear word. In many ways, my grandma was right: reframing things can really change your life.
My daughter Claire has her own version of gratitude that she calls “looking on the bright side.” (For a while she started to call it the “b.s.” but we quickly educated her on why she can’t abbreviate that one.) She learned this reframing tool from her school counselor, Alanna, someone I am immensely grateful for. Claire has a very hard time with endings, no matter how small the activity may be. You may have seen Claire at a Gigi’s event sobbing when it is time for her to leave. This has gotten so much worse since Covid because in-person activities are still somewhat limited and because she was so lonely when things were completely online. Some people have told me that Claire is being manipulative with these tears, but the truth is that Claire truly wears her heart on her sleeve. She genuinely is sad when she has to say goodbye to friends. Looking on the bright side helps her turn things around and manage her emotions. It helps her reframe the situation to “I’m sad it’s ending but I’m so glad it happened.” We have started a scrapbook for big events that she looks forward to putting together and looking at. It’s not a perfect solution, but she is learning and growing and looking on the bright side has helped her immensely.
Sometimes, Claire’s abbreviation of the bright side is spot on. Gratitude sometimes can be b.s. Gratitude can’t solve everything. When someone tells you “At least it’s X not Y” it doesn’t take the pain away from your situation. I’ve quoted Brene Brown here before, but one of her quotes bears repeating: “Every single person has a story that will break your heart. And if you’re paying attention, many people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” The stories that bring you to your knees cannot be turned into a “bird song.” There is no bright side for the families of those that have been lost to gun violence in Rochester this year, so many that a state of emergency has been declared in order to combat the escalating gun violence. There is no bright side for the loved ones of those who have died from Covid. For these people, there are no words, no bright side to the hole that is left in their lives.
Gratitude won’t take away all pain, it won’t bring back loved ones or stop all suffering in the world. But, in the words of Yung Pueblo: “Gratitude and happiness are attractive forces, they are keys that open the door to abundance.” So maybe by practicing a little gratitude, we can help make the world a happier, more peaceful place.
Who and what are you grateful for in your life? GiGi’s Playhouse and its wonderful volunteers top my list, as do the people who have paved the way for more equal rights for people with disabilities, the caregivers and doctors and nurses that treat Claire with dignity and respect, her school teachers and other teachers, and the list goes on and on. So, take a moment or two to look on the bright side, find the bird song, or say thank you and hopefully you’ll find more happiness, peace and love.