When grief turns to gratitude

I’m here in the Boston area for the next few days celebrating Thanksgiving. Last night I went out to dinner with a dear friend and regular Panic Station visitor. It used to be the case that years could pass between the times we’d get to see each other, but now that she’s moved back to Boston I get to see her at least twice a year, at Easter and Thanksgiving, when family tradition brings my brother and me back to mom’s house.

While we covered a huge amount of conversational territory, the words that stuck me when I woke this morning — checking my head for the ache and feeling relieved to find myself unscathed by the wine that we’d drunk, were the words, “I’m beginning to feel grateful now. My grief is finally turning to gratitude.”

Matisse – The Sorrow of the King

My friend was speaking of the sudden loss of her father last year.

Now, given the day that it is (for all those outside the US, Thanksgiving), we can expect that many a blogger will be banging on about gratitude and giving thanks.

For several years we’ve known that gratitude is the greatest single predictor of life satisfaction (thanks to the abundance of research into it under the positive psychology banner otherwise known as the happiness movement.)

Personally, I maxed out on the happiness stuff a few years back. We’ re all made differently and in my case, removing sources of unhappiness is what brings out the best in me.

Which is where gratitude comes in.

The noticing of things that comfort us — the occasional present moment, the nature surrounding us, an act of kindness directed toward us, the magical return of a missing shoe … are said to both build our sense of happiness and be a reflection of it. Which is to say being grateful makes you happy and being happy makes you grateful.

But today my friend’s words reminded me —  the value of gratitude to our psyche isn’t just the wellbeing it promotes in ordinary times, it’s the way it offers us a lifeline. Gratitude is a coping mechanism.  And so on this Thanksgiving Day, I’ve been thinking about some of the worst things that have happened and the silver lining that eventually came my way.


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