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May 3, 2020

Why Grief & Gratitude are a Package Deal.

Have you ever thought about the fact that everyone enters the world crying?

That the sound of despair issued forth from our lungs as we descend from the safety of our mothers’ wombs is the same sound that triggers joy and relief in our parents because it means we are alive?

Grief and gratitude are a package deal, much as death is part of life, and lightness emerges from darkness.

Grief is beautiful because it forces us to realize the preciousness of life, much as death brings us eye-to-eye with the poignant truth of impermanence.

And that is a beautiful thing, because we simply don’t appreciate things we take for granted in the same way we do those are fleeting. How many times have you said to yourself, “If only…” tinged with the bitterness of regret and missed opportunities?

Moving forward from pain with a resolve to become more present is a blessing because all we have is this very moment.

Why is it so important to acknowledge grief?

Because grief starts to act all kinds of crazy when we don’t, much like the attention-starved child who does really bad sh*t just so someone will take notice of them.

Ever noticed that both the villain and the hero have suffered a tragedy, but the villain is the one who didn’t deal with his emotions and lashes out at other people?

While we may not always be in control of what happens to us, we are always in control of how we choose to respond. Emotional patterns are a choice, albeit often unconscious, and rooted in a desire to protect ourselves from further pain or for increasing pleasure.

How can we move through our grief in a healthy way?

First of all, acknowledge that you are going through it! The truth is, how we move through it will look different for everyone, but it is really important to address negative behaviors covering up old hurts—for the sake of not only our mental health, but those around us.

Remember, the “mind” is here to protect us from harm, but sometimes minds be acting crazy and we can’t pay attention to them. Become aware of harmful thoughts without beating yourself up, understand the emotions they are connected to, and actively replace them with more useful ones like gratitude.

How can we learn to focus more on gratitude?

While saying things like, “Be grateful” can feel cliché, especially if you live in Southern California like I do, it’s true. If you want to live in a state of gratitude and bliss, you have to train your brain to identify things that make you feel that way.

Our brains are sorting millions of pieces of information to selectively focus on a few and will adjust what you notice based on how you program your operating system. Our emotional states are kind of like a liberal arts college—you take a bunch of classes from different subjects of your choosing, but still pick a major that becomes your focus.

Emotionally we do the same thing; we dabble in different feelings, but usually have one state that dominates. And yes, we are choosing how we feel, whether consciously or not. Wouldn’t you rather choose something awesome than feel stuck with something sh*tty?

My favorite daily exercise to help cultivate a positive emotional state is three minutes of gratitude. Every morning I set a timer for three minutes on my phone, and then close my eyes and think of things I’m grateful for. And I don’t just make a list, I make sure I really feel the gratitude. This tells your nervous system to start looking for things that make you grateful because they are important, and it really works.

The truth is, happiness has little to do with what happens to us and everything to do with how we respond. Even the meaning of happiness has changed over time and was once used to denote the “self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life.”

Now is your time to choose something better, something positive, something you really want from life that serves a greater purpose than just yourself.

There is truly nothing more rewarding than giving without expectation—please try it and see!

Think of five little ways you can give back every day, be it volunteering your time or even giving someone an unexpected compliment.

Acknowledge your grief, let it go, and be grateful for this opportunity to let your light shine.

“There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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