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With four little boxes in hand, I headed over to the post office. Considering it was early December (the holidays), I fully expected long lines and grumpy people.

But that is not at all what I found. Instead, I stumbled on a pearl of wisdom, one which I will take with me for the rest of my life.

As I walked up to the cashier, I immediately noticed her radiant smile. As she was ringing me up, I noticed that her index finger on her right hand was partially missing. Curiosity took over, and I couldn’t help but ask, “What happened to your finger?”

Still smiling, she said, “The doctor wrapped the dressing too tight.”

“Wait. What?” I asked, “How does that even happen?”

“Yeah, I went in to have a little cyst removed from my the tip of my finger. After the surgery, the doctor wrapped my finger and sent me home. On my follow up visit they realized the blood supply hadn’t been getting to my finger. It had to be amputated.”

As she went on to briefly describe the process she had to go through (skin grafting, and all), my jaw hit the floor and I couldn’t help but get enraged for her.

Then she said the words that changed me forever.

Gratitude Can Shift Perspective On Tough Times

Continuing to push the buttons on the screen with her middle finger on her right hand, she looked at me (still smiling) and said, “God doesn’t make any mistakes.”

In that moment, every ounce of anger in me melted.

Anger for the dentist whose mistake cost me my tooth (along with several thousand dollars) this year…

Rage at another dentist who left me in pain for over a week, because he thought I was just being a wimp. (Turns out, I had the worst case of dry socket he’d ever seen. I wanted to punch him.)…

Anger for the recently acquired knowledge of abuse in my family…

Anger for the immense loss I’ve endured over the past three years…

All of it (and I mean all) dissipated in the moment her words hit my ears.

Reflecting On Someone Else’s Gratitude

Is the anger, frustration, and deep sadness gone forever? Probably not.

But, it is held with greater perspective and even a touch of gratitude as I reflect on her attitude. Her perspective gave me freedom to open my eyes wider to the gifts in my life.  Those gifts include the lessons learned from the awful experiences I just mentioned.  

To be clear, I am not grateful for the losses or the abuse. I would love to continue believing the stories I told myself about my family. I’d also love to have all my teeth in good condition.

If it were possible to take the lessons that came from the pain (without having experienced the pain), I’d take them in a heartbeat. Alas, that’s not how it works.

Cultivating A Mindset That Is Grateful For Failure

You learn how to walk by falling down, over and over and over again. You become a good writer, speaker, entrepreneur, engineer, producer, artist, plumber, etc by making hundreds of thousands of mistakes. And you learn about, and can develop, your true strength by experiencing difficult situations.

You also get to decide the meaning and significance of difficult situations. The meaning you assign can help in your growth.

I’m reminded of words I recently heard—“Your brain cannot do more than one thing at a time.”

I’ve heard the similar words spoken by a few spiritual leaders—“Love and fear cannot coexist.”

Try to hold thoughts of gratitude and anger at the same time. You’ll more than likely find it’s nearly impossible.

By paying attention to what you’re focused on, you can learn to grow your gratitude, even when you’re grateful for the failures in your life.

Perspective is key to having a grateful mindset

While we do not always get to control the things that happen in our lives, we do have the ability to choose our perspective. A person who is focused on gratitude has learned to magnify the good in their lives.

Some experiences (i.e. the loss of a loved one, extreme tooth pain, or the loss of a finger) test your pain tolerance so much that it’s nearly impossible to remain focused on the blessings in life. Yet, if you can focus your mind on what you have to be grateful for, you will find the power behind the difficulty.

How can I practice gratitude daily?

The following are a few simple steps you can take to cultivate a grateful mind:

  1. Start with gratitude. Before you leave your bedroom in the morning, grab a journal and write down three specific experiences, people, or things you’re grateful for. Do this every day. These can be as simple as finding a dollar on the ground, having running water, having a loving family, a good friend, a job, having opportunities to travel, snuggling under a warm blanket, having heat, cooling with air conditioning, and having all five senses in working order.
  2. Share your gratitudes. Ask someone to share their gratitudes with you every morning (this can be through text, email, in person, or on the phone).
  3. Praise yourself. At the end of every day (and even throughout the day), stop and acknowledge the good you did in that day, and the impact it had on others. To improve the positive impact of this step, share your accomplishments with someone you trust.
  4. Finish with gratitude. At the end of every day, make note of at least three things that happened in that day that you’re grateful for. To increase the impact of this step, ask someone you trust to share the things that they’re grateful for with you.
  5. Pause. When you notice irritability arise, pause and ask yourself, “What is happening, specifically?” and “What am I telling myself about the experience?” Write it down, experience the feelings, and then refocus your mind on what you have to be grateful for.

It’s not always easy (or even possible) to pause when you’re in the middle of a traumatic experience. Some experiences need plenty of time, tears, and space.

How To Be Grateful When Times Are Hard

In the midst of tremendous grief over the unexpected loss of my nephew, I often wept for hours a day. Wishing I could be done with all the grief and tears, I reached out to a friend and told her I was ready to be done with all these tears.

“Misti,” she said, “At least you can cry. Some people can’t.”

As I paused to take in her words of wisdom, she continued with, “I have put on a sad movie to get myself to process my emotions (to cry).”

I was stunned. I had never thought that my ability to grieve was a gift.

Her perspective shifted me, as gratitude lifted my grief.

Be thankful even during tough times

Moving forward from the unexpected loss of my nephew didn’t happen overnight. Releasing the grief didn’t immediately become my natural go-to either. But, her perspective did shift me in a profound way.

It helped me to remember to look for (and see) the blessings within each of the immensely difficult experiences I had endured over the previous couple of years.  

So, whether you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, a job, or a finger, remember to pause and allow yourself to experience all there is to be grateful for.

Have a similar experience with loss and gratitude? Share your story with me in the comments section below.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders boost productivity and engagement across generations for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com