"Counting my blessings" is a coping mechanism that I have used for many years now. It never fails to elevate my mood and enable me to see my challenging situations from a different perspective. Nonetheless I didn't expect to experience the power of gratitude so tangibly during the time when I underwent my treatment.
In her article, What Good Is Positivity, Fredrickson discusses the two core truths about positivity and gratitude is one of the ten forms. Firstly, gratitude opens our hearts and minds, making us more receptive and creative. Secondly, gratitude transforms us for the better by allowing us to discover new skills, knowledge and new ways of being. Let me share with you how I learned these lessons in greater details.
1. Gratitude opens my heart.
Right from the onset when I discovered my stroke symptoms and was forced to deal with it in my first hospitalization, the support and kindness that I received from friends and family was overwhelming. My little corner at the hospital ward looked like a mini garden because of the sheer number of flowers and gifts that I had received. I had several visitors daily and their love and concern touched my heart profoundly.
My heart opened wider and I began to lean on their kindness and support. As a result, I had the strongest network of love that kept me from succumbing to the downward spiral that threatened to swallow me up emotionally. For the first time in my life, I learned to truly receive offers of help and expose my vulnerability.
2. Gratitude opens my mind.
Because of the positive emotions that I experienced, I began to choose hope over despair. Being grateful kept my perspective in check and allowed me to make creative connections. I saw seemingly random events that happened to me as signs of God's protection and that gave me hope and courage to fight on.
For example, several weeks before my surgery I ran into an old schoolmate at the clinic and we had lost touch for several years. It turned out that she was a neurologist! What a blessing because thenceforth she became a great source of support and help throughout my ordeals. I feel so grateful that we were reconnected when I needed her most.
3. Gratitude allows me to discover new skills.
The stroke following my second bypass operation affected my functioning greatly. Initially I was not able to perform basic abilities like read, write, text, type and calculate. I could not even remember my ward and bed number and I lost my right visual field. It was most distressing. What kept me going was my intense gratitude to have survived and escaped a paralysis, which was a real threat.
Consequently, I was determined to reclaim my functioning and worked really really hard at learning the "new" skills. I remember when I could finally typed a message on my phone after spending close to 30 minutes of learning (I typed less than 15 words), tears of joy flowed uncontrollably. I felt such a great sense of achievement and my Occupational Therapist was suitably astounded at my dramatic reaction. I trust that you understand my joy at that moment.
4. Gratitude begets more positivity.
Feeling thankful helped me to keep my mood calm, optimistic and hopeful. Ultimately I was able to surrender my need for control, which is a feat because I am a control freak. I was certainly not immune from negative emotions, however my cheerfulness was in abundance for the most part. Some friends were puzzled at how I was able to smile so openly despite the burden I shouldered. I didn't have the answers then but now I know that it's the amazing power of gratitude and the grace of God.
5. Gratitude instills mindfulness.
I became acutely aware of the kindness that was shown to me and I took nothing for granted. I noticed the nurse who went out of her way to offer me a nice cup of Milo knowing that I must be famished after going through the Angiogram. Another nurse was brave enough to approach me when I was in a bad place emotionally. My neurosurgeon who inspired confidence not just with his competence but kindness touched my heart. I was also mindful of the tenderness and skill of the Phlebotomist who had to take my blood repeatedly and his effort to lessen my pain.
Have you experienced the power of gratitude in your life? How has that helped you? If you haven't, I would like to invite you to start by listing 3-5 things that you are grateful
for each day for 2 weeks (according to the founder of Positive Psychology). Notice if it made any difference to your overall well-being. You may also choose to do this with your significant other
and/or children. If you take up the challenge, I'd really love to hear from you.
Come, let's flourish together!
Related post: 6 ways to deal with your diagnosis.