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“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other – above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

~ Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

As 2008 draws to a close, I find my mind is led backwards in time as I re-evaluate the past twelve months and set my goals for the coming year.  Outwardly, today will be spent getting ready for the New Year’s Eve bonfire with close friends and neighbors.  It will be a festive day, with a focus on celebrating all of the good things we have accomplished this year.  Today all our fears and insecurities concerning the future will be temporarily swept aside, and we will instead celebrate the wealth of our abundance, no matter how small our treasures may outwardly appear.   As I look back on the past year, I find that the things I am most grateful for are the small things.

This past year, my personal focus has been on building a network marketing business.  My days have been spent making phone calls and attending networking events.  In the process, I’ve become very good at building relationships, both online and in person, and my life has become far richer precisely because of the friends I have made.

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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”   Melody Beattie

wizard of oz unveiled

Fear makes us do some drastic things that appear on the surface to be reasonable.   For the past two years, for instance, I’ve been heavy into personal development, trying to be the best me that I can be.  My iPod is filled with inspirational and motivational speakers like Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, and Joel Osteen, and with positive-thinking textbooks like Wallace Wattle’s The Science of Being Rich, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Jerry and Esther Hick’s Abraham series, and The Secret.  I play that stuff constantly, sometimes letting them play all through the night when I should really be sleeping.  My iPod is so filled with inspirational tracks that I don’t even have room to keep music on it any more.  That really should have been my first clue that something was out of balance here.  I mean, I’m a musician.  Shouldn’t I be listening to music?

Two weeks ago I reached the saturation point in my quest for personal development.  I had signed up for a high-powered six-day event presented by an internationally acclaimed peak performance specialist who promised to make me into the most powerful me possible.  He promised to remove the internal conflicts that had been holding me back from reaching my true potential.  He promised he could integrate all the parts of me so that they were all working together rather than at cross-purposes with each other.   As a personal development addict how could I resist?  So I dragged my brother along with me and off we went to see the wizard.

The first two days were tolerable.  Oh, the music was unnecessarily loud, and there was way too much perky jumping around and shouting for my liking, but the material was useful so we endured the discomfort and stuck it out.  By day three we were exhausted by the continual assault on our senses combined with sleep deprivation, food deprivation and the frigid cold of the room.  We started to notice that although we were in the meeting room for about 15 hours every day, the actual content we were receiving was pretty much all delivered in the first two days.  Then it dawned on us:  we were being brainwashed.   As the group was whipped into an enthusiastic mass-hysteria and shouting their power incantations, we were shouting, “We will not be assimilated!”  We didn’t last the whole six days.

I felt like Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz.  Like them, my brother and I had undertaken the dangerous journey all the way to the Emerald City.  Once there, the Wizard put us through trials of physical, mental, and emotional endurance with the promise that we would receive our heart’s desire if we persevered.  Like them, we withstood the trials only to find out in the end that the wizard was all smoke and mirrors after all.  What a let down.

Once Toto reveals that the so-called Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz is actually just an old guy from Kansas with no more powers than you or I have, the travelling foursome discover the truth about themselves.  You might say they reached enlightenment.  They realized that everything they had been searching for had always existed within them.  All they ever had to do was believe in their own power.  The Scarecrow, who always felt inferior because he believed he didn’t have a brain, turned out to be the smartest one of them all.  The Tin Man, who cried because he believed he had no heart, actually had the greatest capacity for love.  And the poor Cowardly Lion turned out to be the most courageous of them all, precisely because he was the most afraid.

But what Dorothy learned was the most powerful lesson of all.  Dorothy learned the lesson of gratitude and appreciation for her grey and normal life back in Kansas.  She learned that if she ever goes searching for her heart’s desire again, she’ll know that if it isn’t in her own back yard she never really lost it to begin with.  In the end, Dorothy learned to see her life in a more positive light.   She learned that her relationships with her aunt and uncle, the farm hands, the local drifter and her brave little dog, Toto, were the most valuable treasure she possessed.  She learned that the way to access her greatest personal power was to fill her heart with as much love and appreciation as she could muster for her life as it is.  She learned to see beauty where before she had seen only grey.  She learned to see love and connectedness where before she had only seen conflict.  She learned to be grateful for her life just as it is right now in this very moment.

I’ve been watching The Wizard of Oz my whole life.  When my daughter was three we watched it two or three times a day for a year.  You’d think I would have learned Dorothy’s lesson right along with her.  But, as Glinda explains, “She had to learn it for herself.”  You see, for the past two years I’ve been frantically following one personal development guru after another because I’ve been reacting to the fear that I’m not enough:  I’m not smart enough, not loving enough, not courageous enough.  I’ve believed that if I learn enough and if I push myself hard enough, and if I think thoughts that are positive enough, that someday I will be enough.  I’ve believed that I just need to get to the Wizard and he’ll make everything ok.

Well, it turns out the Wizard wasn’t all that, so I’ve decided to finally embrace Dorothy’s lesson and to be completely grateful for my life just as it is.  I’ve learned to truly appreciate the people in my life, and to cherish the love that we share between us.  I’ve learned to be grateful for all that I am, do, and have, and to believe that my life is perfect and whole just as it is.

So I’m putting music back into my iPod.  Instead of being hungry to soak in other people’s wisdom, I’m going to reverse the flow and begin to give back.  Instead of learning, I’ll write.  Instead of listening, I’ll make music.  Instead of being afraid and dissatisfied, I’ll be consciously grateful for every part of my life just as it is.  Because as Dorothy discovered, there really is no place like home.

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”

— Sarah Ban Breathnach

Pain has a way of getting our complete and undivided attention.  When we are hurting — whether physically or emotionally — it is hard not to focus on the pain.  The Law of Attraction tells us that whatever we focus on is what we will manifest in our lives, so if we focus on pain and misery, guess what?  We’ll just keep getting more of the same.

So how do we keep an attitude of gratitude when our pain is commanding all of our attention?  Easier said than done, right?  How do we focus on abundance when our electricity is being shut off because we can’t find enough work to pay the bills?  How do we focus on how grateful we are for the people in our lives when those very people are using or abusing us?  How do we focus on how good we have it when depression holds us captive in a deep hole of dark despair and desolation?  It seems impossible. It reminds me of that South Park episode where one of the kids has a gay dog.  “Don’t be gay, Sparky!” they kept telling him.  Like that did any good. When we’re going through a bad time, the last thing we want is for people telling us things like: “Don’t worry, be happy!” “Look on the bright side!”  “Just be grateful for the good things!”  “Just choose happiness!”  “Keep an attitude of gratitude!”  When pain or depression have taken hold of us good and square, that kind of meaningless advice seems ridiculously naive.  Yet, a healthy dose of gratitude is exactly what we need in those situations.

There’s a vicious cycle that exists between thinking and emotions.   When you’re depressed (or angry, or worried), your emotional state causes you to think thoughts that encourage and justify your depression, which in turn make you even more depressed, which causes you to think up even more reasons for being depressed.  It doesn’t take long for a depressive cycle to turn into a closed feedback loop that only allows for more depressed thoughts and emotions.  The best way out of that loop is to break the pattern by forcing your brain to focus on something else.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  It may even be one of the hardest things you ever learn to do.  But like any other skill you learn in life, if you work that muscle you can make it strong so that it can serve you when you really need it.  The trick is to start with small steps, and to consistently repeat the process over and over until you’ve developed gratitude muscles that can pull you out of any hole, no matter how deep you fall in.

Here are ten suggestions for those times when you’re so caught up in being miserable that you just don’t feel like being grateful.

1.  Take a nap.  Clear your calendar, find a babysitter, and just curl up into a ball for a day.  Pain of any kind is exhausting.  Mental and emotional pain is the most exhausting kind of all.  When kids get cranky we put them down for a nap.  We should do the same thing ourselves.  When you feel yourself getting irritable, depressed, angry, anxious, or miserable, take a time out.  Get some sleep.  Your brain and your emotions will be much more cooperative after a good nap.

2.  Go to your happy place.  Find a place with really good energy and lots of natural beauty, and just be still for a while.  It helps to have chosen this spot long before you got into this state.  Nature has a calming effect, I think because we can sense that trees and flowers, oceans and rivers, the stars and the moon, are already perfect in and of themselves without all the bustle and activity that we bring to life.  Find a place outside where you can feel the breeze on your skin and the sun on your face, where you can smell flowers and dirt, and hear birds and bugs.  Soak it all in.  Take time to really appreciate every aspect of this environment.  Find things about your happy place that you are grateful for, and begin to say them out loud, or write them down in a gratitude journal.  If you’re feeling really daring, thank the flowers for being so beautiful at a time when you really needed something beautiful in your life.  When you’re in a really bad emotional state it’s easier to be grateful for something outside of your immediate situation, so being grateful for a sunny day is a good first step.

3.  Take a walk.  After you’ve had a nap and have started to look around you for small things to appreciate, taking a walk will help to loosen tense muscles, and will also cause your breathing to deepen.  All of this will help to change your physiology, which will make it easier to change your thinking.  As you walk, make it a point not to rehash whatever story has been going through your mind that has perpetuated this mood.  Instead, repeat positive affirmations, or pray, or sing a song.  The idea is to engage in any active positive mental process that gets your thinking out of the destructive and negative loop it’s been stuck in.  While you’re doing it, feel a deep appreciation for your body and for the health that makes walking possible for you.

4.  Clean the house.  If you’re really depressed and that seems too huge, just clean one surface, mindfully.  Make a neat stack.  Fold some clothes.  Clean a mirror.  One of the basic human needs is a desire for certainty.  When your life feels upside down, cleaning something can give you just enough of a sense of certainty to help you take those first few steps out of the darkness.  As you’re cleaning, really appreciate whatever it is you’re giving your attention to.  Be grateful for the feel and smell of warm, clean laundry.  Be grateful for hot water, and the dishes you get to eat nourishing food out of.  Be grateful for your home or your car as you care for them.  Make it a point to find something good to be grateful for in every item you clean.

5.  Love your pet.  Pet’s give us unconditional love, another basic human need.  Your pet will know that you’re upset, and will gladly give you all the extra love you need.  Soak it up.  Feel their warmth, and let their love for you fill your heart with gratitude.  If you don’t have a pet, I’m sorry.  You’re really missing out.

6.  Learn something new.  Another basic human need we all share is the desire for variety, and a healthy way to meet that need is to learn something new.  Learn a new song.  Invent a better way of doing something.  Rearrange the furniture.  Whatever.  Bringing some new skill or knowledge to your life  breathes fresh air into your world that can vastly improve your thinking patterns.

7.  Get over yourself. They say the fastest way to get depressed is to think only of yourself.  So broaden the scope of your thinking by brightening someone else’s day.  I know, you’re still kind of depressed and don’t feel like being around people yet, so why not send a heartfelt greeting card to someone telling them how grateful you are to have them in your life?  Tell someone how important they are to you, and tell them why you feel that way about them.  I use SendOutCards for this step, because I can send a beautiful greeting card to someone from my computer without ever leaving the house.  Try it, and you’ll be amazed at how much better it makes you feel.  If you’ve been particularly miserable for a while, pouring love into a greeting card is guaranteed to make you cry, but in a good way, and those tears of love will have a wonderful cleansing effect on your mood.  In fact, if you make it a point to send out one heartfelt card every day I predict that you will have fewer bad days overall.

8.  Look into your magic mirror.  They say that other people are mirrors that reflect back what we like about ourselves, and what we hate about ourselves.  So call a friend who you trust to be a mirror of your good aspects.  Admit that you’re feeling down, and ask them to tell you why they are grateful to have you in their lives.  If after the first seven steps you’re still having a hard time finding things to be grateful for, ask a friend to help you see yourself through their loving eyes.  This will help to fulfill another basic human need, the desire to feel significant.  Even when we’re determined to be miserable, sincere praise and the appreciation of someone that we love can be very healing.  Don’t be ashamed to ask.

9.  Go to work.  Getting lost in the flow of your daily routine helps to get you out of your head.  If you totally hate your job, then go help someone else do their work for a while.  It will break your pattern of negative thinking so that you can remember reasons to be grateful.

10.  Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a daily practice to begin and end each day by writing down five things you are grateful for.  Make it a point to find five different things to write down every day.  A good place to develop that habit is with an online gratitude journal like the one at  The Attitude of Gratitude Project.

Going directly from being depressed or angry to being grateful and appreciative is almost impossible.  But like any muscle, if you exercise it every day by developing the practice of focusing on five things you are grateful for, then you are developing a habit of gratitude that will eventually grow into a consistent attitude of gratitude that can change the quality of your life immensely.

What have you got to lose but your bad mood?

Welcome to my Living Gratitude blog.  I’ve started this blog because I need to remind myself every day to be grateful for everything that I have.  You see, I have a confession to make:  I’m a chronic worrier.  For decades it’s been my job to predict cash flow scenarios for my clients so that they could make informed financial decisions.  I always felt I needed to include the worst-case scenario in those projections because what if the worst really happens?  People need to have a plan, don’t they?  When economic times were flush, my tendency toward pessimism was just a quirky annoyance.  But now that the economy really has tanked and “the worst that could happen” seems to really be happening … well, my level of worrying has gone way past fear into an almost constant terrified panic.  It’s not pretty, trust me.  So I invite you to join me on my quest to leave my fearful thoughts behind me, and to adopt in their place a constant and abiding attitude of gratitude.

I’ve been studying the Law of Attraction for several years now, so I know how important it is for me to focus on gratitude rather than fear.  The Law of Attraction states that whatever we focus on with great emotion is what we will attract into our lives.  I’ve learned that there are really only two basic emotions, and that they both are very powerful attractors.   All emotions are either a form of love or a form of fear.  To grossly over-simplify the concept, feeling love makes us feel good, and feeling fear makes us feel bad.  Thoughts that make us feel good tap us in to the power of love, while thoughts that make us feel bad tap us in to the power of fear.  In spite of how it may seem to us sometimes, we get to choose what we will think about at any given moment, which means that we ultimately have total control over how we feel about our circumstances.

That being said, if I continue to let my pessimism feed my fears:  if I listen to the evening news and the dire financial predictions I hear there, if I focus on the downward spiral of the stock exchange, if I continue to stare at my dwindling financial resources and keep focusing on the worst-case scenario, the Law of Attraction predicts that I will without a doubt attract that worst-case scenario into my life, and that I will, in fact, lose everything just as I predicted.  But that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?

If, on the other hand, I make a conscious decision to focus on the power of love in my life, and to dwell on all that is good and beautiful and rich in my life, then I can just as easily attract more of that goodness into my reality.  Now, wouldn’t that be better? So how do you focus on love?  Love is a complicated topic, and we don’t always know how to feel love, let alone express it.  So how do we tap into a power when we don’t really understand it?  Oh, fear is easy – trust me.  I can become afraid and worry with very little prompting.  But for love, I need a key that will open that mysterious door for me in a meaningful way, and that will work for me consistently.  Gratitude is that key.

The way to tap in to the power of love consistently is to switch our focus from fear to gratitude. If we learn to make a daily habit out of expressng our gratitude at the beginning of each day, then we will go out into the world with an attitude of gratitude that will attract more of what we want into our lives.  After all, we all just want to be happy, don’t we?  So let’s start by choosing happy thoughts.

The Attitude of Gratitude Project is this:  Carve out some time at the beginning of each day for a new morning gratitude ritual.  Start each day focusing on all that is going right in your world.  Stop by the The Attitude of Gratitude Project on Facebook and let us know what you’re grateful for today.  Tell someone in your life how much they mean to you.  Take a few minutes each morning to focus on the good things in your life until you can feel the love and appreciation for them welling up inside of you.  You’ll then be able to more easily maintain a grateful attitude as you move through your day.    Try it for 30 days, and see if it doesn’t change your life for the better.  It’s bound to feel better than all that worrying, don’t you think?

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