Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The test of all happiness is gratitude

"This guys awesome." "Lupe, you're the best." "Lupe, I just want let you know we appreciate you so much." "Lupe, I don't know what we would do without you." "Lupe, is there anything you can't do?"

That's some of the brags I receive at work. Although I'm sure gotta be exaggerations. I'm not bragging on myself but to tell you the truth, it really feels good to hear them and it makes me feel grateful to know I'm appreciated and recognized. They are grateful for me and I'm grateful that they are.

I'm supposed to teach on Gratitude this coming Thursday evening at Celebrate Recovery and to be honest I don't feel very grateful for much. I'm having a hard time writing up what to say in spite of how much I'm praying about it. I know being grateful shouldn't have anything to do feelings, but if gratefulness was so easy it wouldn't have to be taught upon. My emotions seem to rule me rather than me ruling them. When it comes to gratitude, practicing keeping things in perspective is easier said than done.

For the sake of privacy I won't go into detail, but there's more than one relationship issue going on and my own personal life and questions about direction in my life. Not to mention my health. Things could be worse. Some things were worse a little over a year ago. But some things remain, while others are worse.

Not feeling so gracious when I need to speak on that very topic to this group bothers me. Can I do it? Will I be ready? Will I give them what they need? This is a group of individuals in the midst of their recovery program seeking and looking for those things to bring their lives back together. Celebrate Recovery is a pro-active organization. The members don't just sit back and do nothing. They're involved. They give and they want to receive. And I am to teach them, to feed them what God has to say.

It's been said, "The test of all happiness is gratitude." So this is what does it, according to an old faith. Grant us inner peace and joy, because gratitude is the one emotion where we are truly focused outside ourselves, truly caught up in the gift and the giver.

Normally I tend to have a grateful attitude. But here lately I've wondered where does gratefulness come from. How do we get it? Do we learn it? Is it a perspective? Is it taught and we just have to learn to practice it and use it? I'm beginning to realize the grateful tend to be those who make a practice of paying attention to the positive.

A wise person once said, “Gratitude is like a flashlight. If you go out into your yard at night and turn on a flashlight, you suddenly can see what’s there. It was always there, but you couldn’t see it in the dark.”  As you go about a day with a grateful attitude, what small things do you notice that you might have missed?

I once read another analogy: A kitchen faucet stopped working in my house, I felt inconvenienced and irritated until I remembered I have a few other perfectly good faucets while there are a billion people who walk for miles to find one. 

But like I said, things are not going so great right now and I don't much "feel" grateful. Don't get me wrong, there are many things I am grateful for. I just seem to focus too much on these negative things. I know, I need to not to. It's hard not to when they are so hurtful and they continue to happen constantly.

It is during our deepest pain that the seeds of our most powerful gratitude's are planted. Gratitude does not come when we are hurting, nor should we ask ourselves to 'find the lesson' in whatever situation we find ourselves in when we are hurting. It's later, when the shock has passed, the pain has lessened, the tears are gone, when acceptance and healing have begun, that gratitude finds its way in. We then start to see its gifts the experience has brought us.

I can look back in my own gratitude's and see how my pain has disciplined and refined my character. Perhaps, even further down life's road, I can come to accept even the pain itself as one of life's gifts. The process of becoming grateful for the hard stuff takes a long time.

I'm grateful for the time I get to spend with my kids every other weekend, but to be grateful that I'm separated from my kids between every other weekend? How is that possible? I'm now grateful for the physical abilities of my arms, legs and fingers, for the ability to walk and talk, all of which are not like before I developed Parkinson's. They are compromised to put it lightly. But am I to be grateful for the Parkinson's that helped me become grateful of them? And that is only because knowing that in time their abilities will be less useful.

I see we can't force gratitude within us. We cannot directly conjure it up by beating up on ourselves. We cease being grateful when we envy, which is also attention focused in the wrong direction. “Don’t be afraid of misfortune and do not yearn after happiness. By God's grace bitterness doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if hunger and thirst don’t claw at your sides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all.

Our unwillingness to see the blessings right in front of us destroys our chance at true happiness. It shouts that we are not grateful their presence whatever they are.

Ever hear of Emotional Sobriety? It's not taught in AA or NA or even Celebrate Recovery. But just like alcohol, drug, sex and eating sobriety, emotional sobriety is being sober in our approach to certain aspects of living; it's not only wise, it's Biblical as well. "Be sober minded. Be watchful." (1 Peter 5:8)

Emotional reactivity. Rollercoaster emotions. Focusing on negatives. These are all symptoms of emotional imbalance and the need for emotional sobriety. Most of us tend to be reactive. That is we automatically jump without thinking or processing at or into a situation. We seldom watch our emotional reactions. We’re caught up in whatever is taking place externally, failing to monitor/ keep watch over our emotions. Sadly we miss so many opportunities by never being ruled by gratitude.

The grace of gratitude comes when we develop a healthy perspective. And when we learn the patience of waiting for the secret gift in the bad. I think that is implied in what Paul says, “Let others see your patience. In everything that happens, in prayer with thanksgiving let your needs be known, and then the peace of God will keep your hearts and minds.” We find peace and joy in learning to thank God even in our troubles for the gifts that inevitably surface right there.

So often our envy and complaint are based on our assumption that life would be better without the obstacles, hurdles, troubles, deprivations that fall our way. Or even on assumptions on little things. Can we be so sure? Don't we to often in life, in difficult challenges, struggling through painful experiences, we come too quickly to the conclusion that these are pure injustices without a saving side? But so often in retrospect we need to take a step and thank God for them. Because it's in that different perspective that we can see many blessings to be grateful for.

So perhaps the reason gratitude brings inner peace and joy is because at its best it involves a thankful embrace of all of our life, its good and hard, its bright and dark, as somehow, never-the-less, the good gift of God. It means learning to rejoice in who we are, as we are, right where we are.

What do you think some of your biggest hinderances to gratitude are? or better yet, What helps you have a heart of gratitude?

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Where my inspiration comes from

A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

Blog with Integrity\\ Auhor Lupe Picazo

Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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