Are you having a down day? When that happens, oftentimes it can be all too easy for us to tell ourselves that when we were younger, our lives were simply better than they are today. But I would like to remind you that that sort of easy negativity can be a form of misguided nostalgia. Why? Because there is no payoff or upside to imagining that "the way things used to be" is somehow automatically superior to the way things are today.
When I feel that an episode of longing to turn back the clock or wishing I were back in the past is headed my way, I force myself to quickly shift gears and reach for a large dose of disciplined gratitude. And the first part of this process involves reminding myself that the mere passage of time has the power to smooth out and sand down the rough (i.e. painful) edges of memories. The soft-focus effect of distance combined with youth-tinged memories and faded emotional scar tissue can play tricks on us. It can convince us that our present circumstances are inferior, more challenging or second-rate compared with our altered memories of what we may or may not have experienced years before.
For many of us, learning to be grateful for who we are and what we have right now — in the present moment — can be a two-pronged process. First we need to embrace our current good fortune, and then we need to figure out where to direct our sense of gratitude. The popular author Heather Lende summarized the wisdom and power of this process in her enchanting little book "Find The Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From A Small-Town Obituary Writer." She wrote, "I believe gratitude comes from a place in your soul that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does, and I also know that gratitude is at the heart of finding the good in this world — especially in our relationships with the ones we love."
Perhaps the easiest component of gratitude involves merely acknowledging the various aspects of our lives that we treasure. Each night, I try to close my day by making a mental inventory of the things I am grateful for — everything from happy memories of my late husband, to the aroma of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, to an unexpected phone call from a far-away college classmate. For me, reviewing the positives of the previous 24 hours is a much more effective soporific than counting sheep, and I like to think that it sets the stage for the next day's gratitude opportunities.
Lots of Oprah Winfrey's fans believe that she began the great gratitude movement years ago when she told her viewers that if they couldn't be grateful for what they already had in their lives, they certainly shouldn't expect to be on the receiving end of additional blessings. In other words, if you're being negative or whiny about who you are or what you have today, don't be surprised if that critical attitude — in a bizarre form of precognitive karma — blocks any kind of increase that might have otherwise been headed your way.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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