I am loathe to give advice. That’s not what this is about. This is not a ‘revolutionary three-step plan’ for a better life. The best I can do is say that this worked for me.
One trend I’ve noticed over the past few years is the growth in tension, anxiety, and worry in our society. Whether it’s a true growth or if it’s simply being vocalized and brought to the surface more, I don’t know. Perhaps social media is giving it a higher, more visible platform. Regardless, it is evident that we complain a lot. We worry a lot. We get tense way too often.
I noticed it in myself, though it wasn’t a recent phenomenon. Stress and tension, as well as non-clinical anxiety, were dependable companions for most of my life. Raising four kids, dealing with an ex-spouse, working in marketing which always up being first in line for the chopping block when the economy or business turns sour, and trying to balance a new life can certainly be labeled as contributing factors.
All of that is still present for me. The kids will be an ever-present worry, no matter how old they either of us get. I’m still more than a decade from retirement, so I go to work every day hoping that day isn’t the last. I still need to balance my past life with my wife, while trying to help her do the same.
What has changed is my re-ordered thinking and the shift in my prayer life. I stopped focusing on what I wanted and started focusing on, and appreciating, what I have. Simplistic, I know, but sometimes the answer is truly right in front of us and can be that obvious. Concentrating on gratitude has made a big difference.
The gratitude is not for things. That will never last for when a time comes when those things are no longer present, no longer will be the gratitude. It is not a comparative gratitude, either. To be thankful that I’m not a starving child or homeless, because that will still focus one on material things. The gratitude is much more basic and granular than that. If a person can get the gratitude to the level of the basics — waking up, air in the lungs, freedom — the rest naturally fall far down the list of what can infest a person’s mind and attitude.
In my prayer life, as well, I made a conscious shift from requests and supplications to simple gratitude. I’ve nearly stopped sending requests and demands to God for what I desire and instead send my gratitude for what I have. I have no calculator on my prayers, but I can confidently say that 90% of my prayers are those of simple gratitude — for my eyes opening each day, for the air in my lungs, and for another opportunity to enjoy my wife and family, music, art, literature, and the whole of creation. There will be a day when that won’t happen. Perhaps it would be best to keep that more to the forefront of our minds.
The problems I thought I had became far less significant and their status as problems has even become questionable. There is no magic, here. The conflicts and challenges of life do not suddenly disappear. A mind re-ordered by gratitude have minimized their effect on me.