In a particularly dark time in my life, I stripped the law of gratitude to the core. I tried disproving that I needed to be thankful in all things, and that it was good to count my blessings everyday. What happened next astounded and humbled me.
Melody Beattie, in her book Make Miracles in 40 days describes in detail the transformative power of writing about what you’re grateful for even when it looks like your life is going down the drain.
The idea of being grateful for the good things we receive, of feeling “blessed” when something favorable happens in our lives, has been promoted by many authors as well as the general media in the last decade; it has gained such traction and heavy publicity that we hear celebrities giving thanks to God when they receive a great honor like an award or a prize. It has become fashionable, even cool for people to publicly express gratitude when everything in your life is going well.
The mainstream media has preached how having an “attitude of gratitude” is the key to getting more material blessings, so much so that this expression has now become cliché. Being thankful has been so linked with getting material “stuff” back that it now risks being seen as shallow. It seems that if you want to get more money in a bank account, or a new car or boat or a bigger home, then being thankful is the veritable ATM card that will deliver these things to you.
In truth, though, practicing gratitude and being grateful have nothing to do with wanting something in return or getting something back. Being thankful is not something we do because we are expecting something in exchange; it is something that we must do because it is a law of the universe.
There is a universal law of gratitude, which says that we should be grateful in every circumstance.
Universal law mandates that we should be thankful, no matter what is happening to us, whether good or bad, and regardless of how we feel. And because it is law, consequences will flow whether it is obeyed or not.
Having an “attitude of gratitude” has gained such traction and heavy publicity that we hear people giving thanks to God when they receive a great honor like an award or a prize. It has become fashionable, even cool to publicly express gratitude when everything in your life is going well.
The law of gratitude and thankfulness is timeless; it pervades virtually all human faiths and belief systems.
The Christian bible says: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Biblical gratitude includes giving thanks always to God for all things (Ephesians 5:20). In the Muslim Quran, the first chapter starts with the word ‘Alhamdulillah’, which signifies gratitude in daily life. God also says in the Quran that “if you are thankful I will add more favors unto you.” Buddhism teaches us to be grateful, without qualification or condition, and that gratitude is necessary for integrity. Hinduism names gratitude and appreciation as the two powers. One Hindu expression says: “Some people complain because God put thorns on roses. Others praise Him for putting roses among thorns”. Even New Age gratitude holds that we can change reality by holding and cultivating a deep sense of gratitude, and that gratitude is the connecting link between us and the universe, infinite intelligence or infinite consciousness.
The critical thing about what these various faiths teach about gratitude is that it must be practiced constantly and for everything that happens in life. They teach that we should give thanks not only in times of good fortune but even in times of difficulties as well; we must be thankful in all things, not just for the good things, but for the seemingly bad and ugly things that happen as well.
I know some of you might be thinking, “you mean I should be thankful that I got laid off from my job or that my father or mother or child died or that I have cancer?” It is true that we must “give thanks in all things”. But it is equally true that there really are circumstances and situations when being thankful is inappropriate. In this blog, I will share with you a way to refocus what you’re grateful or thankful for in these situations.
Testing the law of gratitude
In Chapter 2 of my book Writetech, Writing to the 100th Power, I described a technique to achieve a specific outcome, which I used after I was fired from a job as a lawyer in 2015. That writing technique saved me and carried me through a period of uncertainty. That wasn’t the only writing technique that I used though; the technique I will share in this blog post also helped me tremendously by encouraging me to focus on what was positive about my situation, and reminding me that there were so many good things already present in my life at the time I was fired. The technique also allowed me to set my sights on the silver lining on a dark horizon at the time. It forced me to keep a record of how good things increasingly came my way when I started keeping track of and listing what I was grateful for on a daily basis. This record is something that I can always refer back to as a reminder that I survived a challenging and uncertain period in my life and that I can thrive if something similar were to ever happen to me again.
A few days after I was fired, I wrote in my journal:
“Last Wednesday, I was unceremoniously fired from a job for the first time in my life. Looking back, due to the combination of factors that led to it, I’m not sure I could have prevented it. Maybe I would have delayed it if I knew then what I know now. But I feel it would’ve happened eventually anyway.
Since Friday, I’ve been trying to keep active — applying for teaching jobs, contacting my old professors, setting up meetings — anything to keep myself from thinking I was out of a job with no real prospects of getting another high paying job soon. Antonella and I are planning to go through an IVF procedure overseas — a $12,000 to $15,000 exercise. We wanted to buy a house . My family was going to come here in September. I was going to visit them next month, to see them after 6 long years. Then I got fired from my job.
Yes, God, I do need a miracle, and I need it in 40 days. Before I start this process, I want to say thank you God for how you’ll guide me to where I should go next, and for providing me with everything I’ll need. Thank you for providing for everything Antonella will need too.”
It wasn’t easy, at the moment I wrote this, to be thankful about anything. I felt a whole slew of feelings that were the diametric opposites of gratitude and thankfulness. I felt disappointment at having achieved a goal of landing a job in a Sydney law firm only to lose it in five months; bitterness at that law firm for making me undergo a humiliating experience; resentment toward the man who hired me, for unfairly criticizing my work and belittling my skills as a lawyer. And throw in a cocktail of other negative emotions in the mix — anger, revenge, doubt, despair, confusion, worry, anxiety; if it was something negative, I probably felt it too in the days following my job termination.
I was scared, confused and didn’t know what to do next. I knew I needed guidance but I didn’t have anyone to ask. I had taken a bank loan of $40,000 a few weeks before I lost my job, because even as early as then, I was already anticipating that I would not last in my job. Now I had no job, no income and had no visible means of paying what I owed.
Yes, it was hard to be thankful for anything at that point. But it was what the technique required me to do — to practice gratitude for everything, including the things I didn’t like and hated.
This was at the heart of this miracle creation technique: I wasn’t supposed to just write out my gratitude for the good things; that was easy. Instead, I also had to write out that I was thankful especially for those things that I wasn’t feeling particularly thankful for.
Yes, God, I need a miracle, and I need it in 40 days.
On the first day of the 40-day process, I wrote:
Today I am grateful that –
- I no longer have a job (it was hard to write this, believe me!).
- I have been freed from a job that I despised (this was a bit easier to write).
- I am confused about what to do next.
- I don’t know what to do next, where to go, which job or field to enter.
- There are 3 options emerging for me — joining another firm, teaching or working for myself.
- The option to work for myself for the first time in my life excites and scares me at the same time.
- That I feel like after 10 years in Australia, I haven’t made any progress — I don’t have a job, no savings, have not yet built anything.
- I have deep, deep desires and big, big dreams and ambitions and goals for my life.
- I am healthy in mind and body, I am alive.
- I have a woman who loves and supports me.
Maybe you can clearly grasp that I didn’t feel grateful at all for majority of the things in my first list. The technique sounded counter-intuitive, crazy even. But I had nothing to lose. Within me I had the unshakable sense that despite what logic and reason were shouting in my ear, my spirit told me that I must stop worrying and feeling sorry for myself, that I must stop resisting, and that I must instead be thankful for being exactly where I was and what I had in my life until that point.
My Aikido training helped me as well. All those years of training leading up to my blackbelt were finally going to pay off when I needed it to.
Aikido preached non-resistance to opposing forces as the first step to gaining control of them. Once controlled, the opposing force can be channeled and redirected back to the source.
The words of many of my teachers now came back to me, reminding me of the single most important life lesson of Aikido: “relax completely; keep your center; extend your energy forward.” I was taught that resistance was the fastest way to block one’s Ki (or life force, the positive energy of the universe) from flowing to me. This was by no means a unique teaching to Aikido. Countless belief systems have all taught that resistance is the most potent way to unplug from the universe, God, Allah, Infinite Intelligence, or the Creator. Resistance blocks our good from coming to us, destroys our power and prevents us from moving forward.
I realized then that I was feeling so miserable in my situation because I was resisting everything that was happening, because I objected to the state of things as they presently were.
I wasn’t supposed to be fired! I was supposed to be making more money! I was supposed to have already built a good life for myself after a decade in Australia! All this resistance was building up in me and it eventually became a physical, not just an emotional, weight I had to carry. Resisting started becoming painful; but on the other hand, relaxing about everything to the point of surrendering to circumstances as they were, actually felt good.
So, I threw myself utterly and completely to the 40-day miracle technique.
I figured I had nothing to lose. As required by the technique, I should say I was grateful for all things, exactly as they were. I’d stick out the 40 days, and see how things went.
I wanted to test the so-called “law of gratitude” for myself. I wanted to see if I could use it to create the miracle I so desperately needed at that point in my life.
No way in my wildest imaginings could I have anticipated what happened next.
Read Part 2.
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