Our happiness depends on where we focus our minds. There are always things that we want and things that we don’t want, things that are present and things that are absent. The question is: where do we focus our thoughts?
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In” a best-selling empowerment book for working women, recently delivered a profoundly moving commencement address at University of California at Berkeley. It was the first time that she talked publicly about her husband’s sudden death that happened a year ago.
Sheryl spoke of a “deep fog of grief, an emptiness that filled her heart, constricting her ability to think or even breathe.” During her address, she wept, stopping to compose herself as the graduates applauded her courage. She continued to tell them that through this experience she learned to consciously “choose joy and meaning,” taking in others’ kindnesses with gratitude. She suggested that students learn to make that choice for themselves.
She went on to say: “My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude — not just on the good days like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”
I strongly resonated with Sheryl’s message, believing that gratitude is the feeling that most easily leads us to our souls.
As we take a moment to look inside with open hearts, we might ask: to whom and for what are we grateful? Who offered me kindness today? Who supported me in something I needed or desired? Who contributed to me? Uplifted me? What inspired me? What did I see or hear that touched me? If none of that happened today, perhaps I can bring back a memory of when it did. Whether thinking about the past, present or future, our thoughts will create feelings — sometimes sadness, anger or fear, other times happiness for which we are grateful.
If you are sick, you might think about the professionals and treatments that are helping you. If you are lonely, you might think about a time someone was especially attentive to you. If you are experiencing financial shortage, you could think about the basics that support your life. If you have no food, think about the organizations and agencies whose purpose it is to provide for you. Think about people who love you, work that provides for you, even excites you, food that nourishes you, entertainment that delights you, beauty that inspires you, nature that amazes you, gifts of goodness that you have given and received.
I have come to a place in my life where I am even grateful for my challenges. They grow me beyond the “me” I know. My challenges teach me about what I can be and do so long as I keep myself filled with gratitude for what is now working in my life. The teachings of Abraham (abraham-hicks.com) remind us to be grateful for where we are while expanding ourselves to go even higher.
Friends of mine, two of the most devoted parents I have known, recently lost their eight and ten year old sons in a tragic fire that completely destroyed their home. Close friends were guests with their children. All escaped but the two boys, some with painful injuries.
Family, friends and communities continuously shower them with loving gifts and attention, and they respond with messages of gratitude—telling us how much our thoughts and prayers mean to them. They take solace that their sons died in the home in which they were born and had such happy lives, able to have fun on their sleep-over date with their closest friends just hours before they perished.
These courageous parents remind us that, as we fill their hearts with our love, their gratitude keeps them more connected to their spirits and their desire to somehow get through their grief.
Gratitude uplifts both the giver and receiver. Sometimes it even makes us willing to go on in the face of incomprehensible loss. Surely it will strengthen each of us in our own personal challenges.
Sheryl Sandberg’s awareness of the power of gratitude impelled her to give a talk about her personal experience to the Graduating Class of 2016. While probably chosen as a highly qualified speaker on the topic of “making it” in the world of business, instead she chose to contribute to making their entire lives richer. Bravo Sheryl, and thank you for making my life richer too!