Monday, June 4, 2018

In retrospect

In addition to helping cultivate gratitude, this current practice of giving thanks for the good things in life has also gotten me thinking about the past. As I have mentioned before, taking care of a precious little one was both a joy and a heap of (necessary!) new worries. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't shy away from responsibility, but by the end of last year I needed to acknowledge my feelings of dread for the future. I felt cynical, fearful, and depressed; but most of all that a change was in order. 

Enter my current focus on communicating gratitude to others, and I feel completely different. To be clear, gratitude is not a magic wand that makes all problems go away, nor is it the equivalent to 'positive thinking'. Rather, gratitude is just rejoicing in what is good. The bad can still be acknowledged, but this simple act of celebration causes negative thoughts and events to lose their power.

Reflecting on this last thought, I wondered, what if I had begun this gratitude practice years ago? How would things have been different? Specifically, I thought about when I began my first job out of graduate school. The first semester we were hired my colleagues and I worked upwards of 70 hours a week for a position posted at 37.5. We were a dedicated bunch all willing to work more our job description, but that semester (and academic year) was hard. Even though we had made some great initial progress and loved working with students, our team was facing burnout. Outside our immediate cohort we also felt unappreciated and, quite frankly, a little used. Everything considered, even with a great team and supportive advisors, it was easy to let rumination and negative thoughts creep in. 

In the midst of that turmoil I did have moments when I was thankful to have a job. But what if I had spent some time each day to really focus on something I am grateful for, as I am doing now? It would certainly not have changed the 12 hour days, but I daresay that a little bit more gratitude would have improved my outlook considerably.

The truth is though, I will never know. My purpose for writing this post is not to invite regret, but to use my own experience to become more aware and make the most of difficult circumstances. For now most of my major challenges lie in the past, but I think it is realistic to acknowledge that more are probably ahead, because that's life. Therefore, working on bringing about a change in habits and attitude now might help me later down the road, so that perhaps then the tone of my post will be a little different, 'in retrospect'.

This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
May all beings be happy!

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