Growing up, my family would often gather around the dinner table and my mom would ask us to take turns giving thanks for our blessings.
Now let me set a typical family scene for you:
I have ten siblings. Five step brothers, three half sisters and a half brother. Our family unit at the time consisted of my step-father Ramon (who cooks the most wonderful family meals), three step brothers and two half sisters, who are 14 and 21 years my junior, respectively.
So, we would go around the table and each person would name something to be thankful for. Some would be thankful for the meal before them, our family, good grades, Xbox or some game or another. Then, one day my little sister Em says “I am grateful for plumbing!,” with a big genuine smile on her face. We laughed and all agreed…. we were grateful for plumbing too!!
We have quoted her for saying this time and again over the last fifteen years. Such a beautiful and simple but also deep thought coming from a 7 year-old.
As I write this blog my heart keeps filling up with all of the things in my life that I am grateful for:
I am grateful first and foremost that my mother, God, and the many life lessons that have taught me how to be grateful.
Eleven years ago in July 2008, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) with Philadelphia chromosome. I went through three rigorous rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from a German girl who selflessly gave to a stranger and saved my life.
This time in my life taught me not only to appreciate everyday I wake up healthy, strong, and alive, but also to find the blessings even in the toughest moments. See, during that time I was able to spend everyday with my mom for a whole year. As my caretaker she rarely left my side, and since I was so sick, this meant a lot of deep conversations as well as meaningless silly banter, blockbuster movies, arts and crafts, and moments of quiet company.
Somehow in those moments, and certainly upon reflection, we were able to see this time in our lives as a blessing. We got a chance to take a pause in our lives, focus on survival and basic needs, and disconnect from the routines of daily life. Somehow this felt like a blessing. And it was…
But the funny thing about gratitude is that it requires thought and attention. You can experience something like cancer and forget how much you appreciate and treasure your good health. Even forget at times how much you appreciate those around you without whom you would not be alive today. I remember thinking at the time, I hope I never forget how grateful I am to be alive.
But after a difficult day at work or in court, a fight with my ex, or even just in a Miami traffic jam…. there goes gratitude – right out the window.
It is not until the last couple of years in my life, after my divorce and when many aspects of my life changed dramatically, that I realized in many ways I had lost touch with the blessings in my life and as a result was not happy with my life and myself. I found myself sad and lonely and unaware of the people, places, and things in my life that brought me joy, lightened my burden, and brought a smile to my face.
Little by little as I worked to build my new life I began to reflect on the last eleven years trying to figure out where I went wrong. When I had forgotten everything I had been through. When did I lose touch with appreciating not only the simple blessings but the greatest one – being alive.
Coming back to gratitude saved my life once again. I realized that if you go back to gratitude and remember where you’ve been and what you have experienced in your life, as well as the small daily blessings, you gain clarity not only on what matters most today in the present moment, but you open your eyes to what you want more of in the future.
For me, gratitude brings joy. Whether you are having a bad day or the best day ever, when you pause and take a moment to appreciate and give thanks for the good things (the roof over our heads, our family and friends who support us and walk or dance through this life with us, delicious food, the freedom we enjoy in this beautiful country, – and yes – plumbing), the burdens and heaviness of your day can begin to lift as you put things into perspective. That traffic jam may become the hour you got to jam out in your car. A difficult day at work becomes a lesson for me to be a better lawyer and to be more compassionate for what my colleagues and clients are also experiencing on those tough days.
Moreover, scientific research supports there are many benefits to a gratitude practice. In a white paper titled, “The Science of Gratitude” (2018), the Greater Good Science Center, outlines several benefits of a gratitude practice:
- Increased happiness and positive mood
- More satisfaction with life
- Less materialistic
- Less likely to experience burnout
- Better physical health
- Better sleep
- Less fatigue
- Lower levels of cellular inflammation
- Greater resiliency
- Encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom
(See https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-gratitude/ for more information on this research.)
For those going through any difficulties such as illness, divorce, struggling to find work-life balance, or even just experiencing the daily struggles of life, going back to gratitude can be the key to unlocking your happiness and keeping perspective on the blessings in your life.
Just a silly fun fact to end this with….
Did you know a pack of unicorns is called a blessing? This blog is dedicated to all of my unicorns out there – you know who you are – you are a blessing not only to me but to the world, and I am grateful for you.
OVER TO YOU:
Who are your unicorns in your life that you want to say thank you to?
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