Practicing Gratitude in the Midst of Difficult Challenges

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 18. It was my senior year in high school, and in that moment, I was the exact opposite of grateful. In my mind, practicing gratitude on that day was impossible. I had dedicated countless hours to restoring my 1985 BMW, and I wanted to hold down the gas pedal long enough to a reach the speed of light.

As the diagnosis slowly started to set in, my ideas were refocused more on anger instead of recklessly escaping down the country roads. I hated my dysfunctional mind and I hoped that my doctors were wrong. My family could make a convincing argument that I dedicated the next six (or even 16) years of my life trying to prove everyone wrong.

More Grateful Perspectives

Fortunately, within that first six years I was able to refocus on more productive things. My dysfunctional mind diagnosis was plenty of motivation for me to learn the chemistry behind the drugs that could correct the problem (my story). My undergraduate and graduate level pursuits of synthetic chemistry didn’t get me much closer to fixing the problem, but all that work did help me reach several productive goals.

Along my pathway of studying and research, I ran into additional challenges. Some classes were different than I had hoped. Some experiments were unsuccessful, and some of my goals were not reached. However, I was able to respect the challenges I faced. I learned that assumptions and expectations set the stage for unproductive experiences. I learned that additional challenges and unexpected outcomes can be valuable experiences.

As I struggled to accept the epilepsy diagnosis, I was able to connect with others who could hear my side. I was able to hear that other people are also facing substantial challenges. I was able to reconnect with others on a more genuine level, and I was able to accept myself including my diagnostic label. 

Life is an Opportunity to Learn

I am still learning, but I have learned to be grateful for my experiences. Each day I strive to recognize the goodness in the world. I am grateful for both joys and sorrows, as they both present opportunities to grow.

There are faults and challenges in our midst. We have opportunities for self-improvement, and we have opportunities to provide support for those who need it. In each moment, you have the choice to look for the good and be grateful for it. You can take that one step further and be grateful for the challenges you face. With new and more open perspectives, you can be more grateful. 

Refocus on what is good

Although our minds often run in too many circles, we can redirect those thoughts. We can refocus on what is good as well as what can be good. We can reassess our thoughts and perceptions of the things around us.

This process starts with life each day. Consider the specific perspective you have on the patterns you follow each day. Do you grudgingly feel like you must go to bed, or do you feel blessed with opportunity to sleep in a comfortable bed? Are there times when you avoid completing your ‘to do’ list at all costs, or do you look forward to reaching the small goals you have set? Do you disdain the thought of going to work, or are you grateful for an opportunity to provide service for others while also earning an income to support yourself and others?

Each day is a blessing and an opportunity to learn more things, meet people, and travel to new places. Each day offers a level of safety, predictability, and comfortability. We have many opportunities to refocus our thoughts on what is good.

When we live up to the the challenge of focusing on the positive, goodness can be found. We are lucky to live in a culture with freedom to explore. We are lucky to have many opportunities to surround ourselves with goodness.

Respect the challenges you face

There are times when the good is not as easy to see. Currently our society is facing the substantial economic, medical, personal, and social challenges of Covid-19. I cannot say that I am grateful for the virus itself. However, I do have gratitude and respect certain aspects of the challenge. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who continue to treat the overwhelming number of cases. I greatly appreciate the research communities who continue to pursue the best treatment options and preventative vaccinations. I respect the wide range of perspectives and recommendations we can follow to overcome the challenge. Even though working from home presents challenges, I am grateful for additional time with my family and the fact that I have a safe and loving home.

As you might be pondering some of the ideas that were not helpful, keep in mind that experimentation and even failure is sometimes required before productive changes can be made. Hatred is an inhibitor of gratitude. Respect allows acknowledgement of difficult challenges and opportunities to overcome them with a more positive perspective.

Are you holding any grudges? Or, are you grateful for the learning experience that was provided? Fortunately, writing has helped me to recognize and reassess some of the grudges I held. Once I accepted the fact that I was still holding the grudge, I was able find some better perspectives to consider. Does this challenge offer opportunities for personal growth? Does the challenge help me to reassess and improve my level of patience?  Do I pursue new ideas and opportunities? YES!

Although I thoroughly disdained my diagnosis, I am now grateful for the challenges it presented. Epilepsy provided opportunities for me to refocus my thoughts on better things. The diagnosis provided opportunities for me to find patience. Epilepsy taught me how to coexist with my perception of being uncomfortable and inspired me to refocus on a new set of goals.

Reconnect with yourself and others

For those who are kind and supportive, thank you for making life simpler and more enjoyable. For those who present complex challenges, thank you for offering opportunities to learn and grow.

Fully understanding yourself is a lifelong pursuit. With each new day, we face new challenges, but we also have opportunities to reconnect with who we are.

As a child and teenager, I was easy to identify as an introvert. I could only interact with people for a certain amount of time before I needed a break. I was okay with spending days by myself. However, I learned that the people around me are too valuable to ignore. Their reactions are insightful as I strive to be a better person. Their feedback is valuable as I strive to learn new things. Most of all, their critiques are important to consider as I strive to understand myself and those around me.

When I cannot see myself through the eyes of the people around me, I am lost.

Socially disconnecting still seems to be easier for me, especially during situations such as a mandatory quarantine. However, I know I am a better person when I see the world through the eyes of others. I understand more about myself when I am socially connected.

Now, as I am raising a family, gratitude has a new level of importance. I want my daughters to value and experience gratitude, even as they learn to overcome their challenges. I will support them as they learn to drink enough water when they are sick, eat enough food when they are hungry, and sleep in their bed when they are tired. Each day I remind myself to be grateful when those goals are met. I have learned to accept the fact that on some days they will not!

Practicing Gratitude Each Day

Each moment is an opportunity to see the goodness that exists. Sometimes, this requires refocusing on what is good. Sometimes we lose ourselves within our own mind, and sometimes we confuse ourselves by predicting the thoughts and critiques of others. However, we should strive to reconnect with our own mind and body. We should re-evaluate our perspectives. Most importantly, we should reconnect with the people that surround us.

Smile and wave to the people that you see

Share kind words with others

Give thanks for what you have and for what you don’t have

Practicing starts with the little things, and eventually the little things grow to be something greater. No kind word, acknowledgement, or note is too small. No extra thank you or compliment is without benefit for both you and the receiver. Gratitude is acknowledging positivity and sharing that discovered positivity with those around you.

I am grateful that you read this article, and I would be grateful if you shared it with others!

Daniel Miller
With experience in the different fields of chemistry and psychology, I hope to share some thought provoking personal well-being topics related to physical health, psychology, rational thought, and spirituality.
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