Many of us live in a state of anxiety as we try to manage the numerous complexities and negative events or people we face in our daily lives. As with everything, it is the innermost attitude with which we approach these challenges and the tasks that lie ahead of us each day that is going to make a huge difference to how we cope. We may feel that we can’t opt out, for example, of our job or study or parenting but the area where we have a glorious amount of choice is how we approach these things. As Victor Frankl taught us in his epic Man’s Search for Meaning, his Nazi captors could take away many things but they could not take away the “last of the human freedoms” which is the ability to choose our attitude.
So how can an innermost attitude of gratitude assist us as we navigate our way through and around the negative events in our lives? I advocate that before doing any task we get into what I call ‘A State of Preparedness’ – explained in more detail in my TEDx Talk: How thanking awakens our thinking, and in chapter 6 of my book Gratitude in Education: A Radical View. ‘A State of Preparedness’ calls upon us to prepare our being before we embark on anything we need to do. This means that we reflect on the innermost attitude we are bringing to the day ahead, to the meeting we are about to go into, to the task we are about to perform, and choose to approach it with gratitude.
Why gratitude? As empirical researcher Phillip Watkins (2016) shows us, gratitude amplifies the good in our lives. It amplifies our awareness and interpretation of beneficial events, our awareness of the good in our lives and our experiences of good memories. Gratitude also has an imperative force that motivates us to give back. It naturally moves us into giving mode and a greater sense of interconnectedness with those from whom we feel we have received.
A school principal I will call Tracey, who was part of one of my book clubs for school leaders, was having a really hard time at her school and couldn’t find anything to be grateful for, so she was questioning her ability to adopt ‘A State of Preparedness’. In fact, when she tried to practise gratitude, all she could feel was resentment, which is the opposite of gratitude. So I suggested that she focus on the things she could be grateful for – her children, her supportive husband, her beautiful garden with all its colours and scents, her health, her eyes with which she could take in all the treasures around her. Tracey started to do this as soon as she could after she awoke and then as she was driving to school. She reported that she felt much greater joy and resilience, which gave her the strength to deal with the array of complexities that the day brought.
In choosing an innermost attitude of gratitude, ‘A State of Preparedness’ doesn’t require us to get rid of the negativity in our lives or to use our gratitude to somehow repress our resentment. If Tracey was to go into her school trying to be grateful for all that she encountered it could place a positive veneer over negative situations that were crying out for attention. As a school principal she would perhaps miss the opportunity to facilitate changes in things that were not going well, or to communicate with her staff if she was unaware of something that needed to be discussed. Tracey could also be compromising her authenticity by not acknowledging how she was really feeling.
However, the more we practise ‘A State of Preparedness’, the more gratitude can infuse our everyday encounters and we can start to see beyond the negative without forcing it. Once we can get through difficult times in a more positive and balanced way, we start to notice that greater attention to our gratitude has a direct influence on how the task or day goes.
We can start out by just focus on a few things that we are grateful for. When we find that it comes naturally to be approaching our tasks or our day with gratitude we can say that we have developed an innermost attitude of gratitude.
In other words, an ‘innermost’ attitude is one at the depths of our being, or the lens through which we are experiencing and reacting to life’s events. When we approach all events in our lives with an innermost attitude of gratitude (something that is a constant work in progress for most of us, including myself), we have prepared our being with gratitude.
Frankl, V. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Simon & Schuster
Watkins, P. & McCurrach, D. (2016). Exploring how gratitude trains cognitive processes important to wellbeing. In David Carr (ed.) Perspectives on gratitude: An interdisciplinary approach. New York: Routledge. Pp. 27-40