How to Cultivate Gratitude

I am happy and blessed with my life, though it is not always free of challenges and trials.  As I have shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was a little girl.  Though this was not the cause of all of my depression, I found that when I realized what I actually had rather than focusing on what I lacked; I found that I was able to cultivate more joy and gratitude into my life.  Yes, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you are facing something tough and personal. However, it still can be done. Gratitude should be cultivated even more during times of prosperity and peace.  Here is what I am learning and have learned about how to cultivate a grateful attitude:

  1. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have: I believe that the number one barrier to being grateful is our focus. When we focus on all the things that we lack, we tend to develop an attitude of self-pity, which often leads to complaining and bitterness. When we focus on the things we do have, we realize just how much we are blessed. For instance, when I get frustrated at myself because I don’t know how to do something right, my focus is wrongly on the talents that I don’t have instead of my strengths. However, if I shift my focus on something I am better at—such as writing– I find that I can be much more encouraged and less upset at the thing in which I am struggling.  Many people who struggle with being grateful for what they have also struggle with envy because their focus is on getting (or wishing they had) something that someone else possesses, instead of what they have already been given.  For instance, I used to envy people who were happily married and had children, because, as a single, I did not have those for myself. However, when I instead focused on the relative freedom and time I had to help others, I realized the blessing that I had being single that these married people no longer had.
  2. Know that we are often given more than we deserve: Many people, including myself, at times, struggle with the fact that we get more than we deserve, because of our sense of entitlement. However, even though we have all hurt others, though maybe not all intentionally, most of us still have people that love and care for us, and we have some semblance of joy in our lives.  The fact that others still give us mercy even though we may have hurt them before should cause us to rejoice and be thankful!  If you drive, have you not gotten a ticket even though you were speeding through traffic? That is evidence of mercy!   Or you made a serious error at work, and your boss does not fire you? That, too, is evidence of grace and mercy!  Bring to mind the moments when you should have had to bear the consequences of your bad actions, but in God’s and others’ mercy, you didn’t have to.  Moreover, think of the times when you did something careless, but you were saved from disaster.
  3. Consider others who are in worse situations than you: Finally, a great way to cultivate gratitude is not to look at others who are doing better than you, but see the people around you who are in more difficult situations than you. For instance, some people I know have either a loved one struggling with a serious medical issue or are struggling themselves. This helps me to be grateful that my family and I are in good health, even though I may come home from work tired sometimes. Recently, at work, we had a celebration for the bonus that my co-workers and I were able to get on our last paycheck.   They served pizza. Though the pizza became cold after being out for several hours, I was grateful work provided pizza for us because of what I heard about the struggle of people in other countries to get any food at all. In particular, I was thinking about the people of Venezuela. I heard that since they have had an electrical shortage, meat cannot be adequately cooled in freezers, so eventually it becomes spoiled, but the stores sell them anyway because people need food. So, the people actually buy the spoiled meat, season it with some spices, and eat it!  Their dire situation helps me be grateful that we have so much food, electricity, and working cooling systems (freezers and refrigerators) in the U.S and that we can eat delicious, edible food that is not spoiled.

By focusing on all that God has blessed me with, by knowing that I am often being given more than I ultimately deserve and by considering people in worse situations than me, I am able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for my life. When I do this, I find that I am not only able to be more thankful for what I have, but I am also to have more joy, even in the tough times. Even though we may face many challenges and struggles, we still can cherish and appreciate what we do have before it is too late.

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Dangers of Apathy

I have heard countless stories on the news about parents who abused and then killed their children, about terrorists beheading their victims, and countless other reports of violent atrocities committed against humanity and  animals.  The perpetrators of these acts have often ceased caring about their victims and much of all humanity, as well, except themselves.  Some of them probably think they can a.) Get away with their crimes or b.) Don’t care about what will happen to them in this life, or sadly, the next.  My pastor has warned our congregation repeatedly about the consequences of apathy in life and about other people.

Here are some of the dangers that we can put ourselves and others in when we get apathetic:

When we are apathetic towards our lives in general, this is generally a sign of major depression.  I have experienced this somewhat in my life during the depths of my depressive episodes.   Not only did I have few, if any, close friends, but I also became bored with almost any activity that I tried to do.  I was just “surviving,” so to speak. There really wasn’t any joy or purpose in my life at the time. When people get to the point in their lives where they “just don’t’ care about anything,” they need a serious mental health intervention.  Even though most people do care about their lives with their loved ones, I know of many people that hate their jobs so much, they just do the bare minimum, with no passion or joy in what they are doing whatsoever, and they wonder why they feel so miserable. When people are apathetic of an important aspect of their lives, or even all of their lives, their performance in that area often suffers greatly. They no longer feel motivated to do their best or come up with new ideas. Sometimes it is because they do not receive the needed encouragement to get motivated, as is in many cases, with people hating their jobs. Another reason they may fall into apathy is that feel that nothing they do is good enough, so they stop trying. Since apathy can be a symptom of depression, if one gets apathetic for too long, he or she can quickly become suicidal and/or self-destructive in other ways.

When we are apathetic towards our loved ones and/or most of humanity in general, this leads to destruction. In fact, as I have heard and witnessed myself, when a person stops caring about others, he or she becomes a monster.  I don’t mean the cartoonish ones on television, but the evil, angry menace that is embodied in all true monsters.  Apathy towards humanity not only devalues them, but also leads to destruction. In fact, most, if not all, murderers have some degree of apathy towards their victims. Apathy towards humanity and/or our loved ones not only destroys others’ lives, but also our own.  When one realizes the destruction their apathy has caused, it is often to relate to rectify their actions.   Apathy comes from a heart of selfishness and narcissism.  Apathy towards humanity isolates people because it cuts off our ability to have compassion towards another’s pain or misfortune, and this leads to them not wanting to relate to us anymore.

So, how do we avoid being apathetic about life or about other people? How do we avoid this destruction in our lives?  Reversing apathy takes hard work, but it is well worth the cost.  One thing we can do if we struggle with apathy is to learn how to love others again.  One way to do that is to learn how to have compassion for others. We can volunteer in our community or help out where needed at our jobs, not just for our benefit, but for others’ benefit as well.  We can also learn about the trials and the struggles our loved ones are facing and know how that will affect our own lives, as it should.  Then, we should actively try to encourage and support them in any way we can.  Intentionally invest in other people’s lives and try to influence their lives for the better, not the worse.  Another way to love others is to be willing to make any necessary sacrifices for them and/or be willing to give of our time, talents, and resources to help them. Learning how to be generous and sacrificial of ourselves is not only a great way to combat apathy, but also a wonderful way to have joy and be grateful for what we already have!

Even if it seems that many people in society are becoming increasingly apathetic about life and/or other people, we can upset the applecart, so to speak, by having a motivation to better the lives of others and our own as well.  Apathy is a slippery, steep slope to destruction of all kinds.  Apathy can take a while to recover from, but with hard work, renewed passion, and perseverance, it can be done.   Let’s live our lives with passion today, because as my pastor has often said, “Time is life.”

Ways You Can Encourage Others

In order to celebrate the National Day of Encouragement, which is officially September 12, I think it is important to make those around us feel loved and encouraged, especially that day.  Sometimes, we may be at a loss as to what to say to someone who is feeling especially discouraged today, or we may not feel especially motivated to be encouraging, especially if the people around you keep berating you in some way, or they are pressuring you into being someone who you are not or cannot be.  However, tough as it may be, the difference we make in others’ lives just by encouraging them can be life-changing. Here are some ways I have found that we can encourage others:

Through words of validation:

My online friend Holly is the best at this, even though she has been invalidated far too often.  When I was upset, she always respected my right to vent and feel what I was feeling.  She offered me words of encouragement that let me know that she was on my side and would support me through it all.  So, how can you validate someone?  A) Refrain from judging or condemning the person, even if you disagree with some of the choices the person has made.  Just listen to them, and offer words of hope. You don’t have to agree with everything the person is saying, but you don’t have to insult them or be judgmental either.   For instance, if someone you know is struggling with an addiction, don’t tell them they “should” do this or that. A.) They may not be prepared to hear advice yet, and will just shut down if you try to tell them “shoulds.” B) A better way to approach this person is to tell them that you will support them when they are ready to stop the addiction and will be there for them even now.   Another way to validate someone is to affirm their best qualities. This validation will especially boost a person who struggles with low self-esteem.  Of course, do not just “flatter” them to get something you want, but do it in a genuine, heartfelt way. 

When someone is going through a tough time:

I just had a really bad day yesterday when I was just feeling down on myself and was very stressed.  However, several people who were really close to me encouraged me by reminding me of the good that I had accomplished in my life and told me how I was doing the best I could.  Telling someone who is struggling with depression that they are doing the best they can for the situation that they are in expresses both empathy and validation for their struggle.  While other people may wrongly think that they are just being “lazy” or “negative” in some way, you can be the beacon of hope and encouragement in their lives by validating their struggle. You can also encourage people going through a tough time by just spending quality time with them.  When one of the congregants at my church was very sick, many people visited and encouraged her. She was very happy to see us, and thus she was able to not feel so alone in her pain. 

Through words and actions of appreciation:

There are only a few things worse, in my opinion, than having the good that you have done on earth or for someone go unappreciated or rejected.  However, some people feel that the good that they do is either in vain, or that no one appreciates them. I am trying to change that mindset in my sphere of influence by making sure that the good that people have done for me does not go unappreciated.  I want the people in my life to know that they matter and that they are loved.  You can also make sure the good that the people in your life have done for you is appreciated and valued. Some of the ways you can show your appreciation for others is by writing them a heartfelt thank-you note, by telling them how much you appreciate them  (It is better if you can point to specific instances where you felt loved and cared for by them.) , and by caring for them in their time of need.

These are some of the ways I have found that you can encourage others today.  Many people around you are facing stressors of different kinds, and some are even feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by life’s circumstances.  However, with your words of encouragement, you can help boost their whole outlook on life and give them hope in whatever they are facing.  Let’s be encouraging to those around us, starting today and see the world change for the better!

Don’t Waste Your Life- a poem

poem written on:  9/4/2018

Don’t waste your life

On the trivial

Don’t waste your life

On bitterness

Don’t waste your life

On not trying

Don’t waste your life

On the fleeting

 

Embrace each day

As the last one

Know you have done

The best you could

Forgive others

And show mercy

Be kind always

And most of all

Be a bright light

And show the love

From up above

If Words Could Say- a poem

poem written:   8/23/2018

 

If words could say how much you did here

If words could say how much you gave here

If words could say how much I learned from you

If words could say how much you cared

 

They would fill an ocean wide

They would reach the earth’s other side

The would reach further than the moon

They would never end very soon

 

For about you there is much to say

But not enough time in a given day

In which to tell you

All the things I want to say

 

Sometimes I know you fear

That you’re not valued here

But suffice to say

You inspire me

Every single day

 

 

 

5 Convictions I Strive To Live By Everyday

On this Labor Day (a holiday celebrating resting from work in the U.S, though, ironically I’m working that day!) Weekend, I have been thinking a lot about what my future may be, what I’m doing with my life now, and how I can improve myself and help others. What I keep coming back to, in pondering all this, are these following convictions on which I base my life.  These convictions have developed both by my growing relationship with God, and all the things that I have been learning from those that God has put in my life.  Here are these convictions, how I plan to continue to implement them into my life, and some of the people who inspire me to live these:

  1. Be authentic.—There is little else that angers me more than someone who lives to lie and deceive others, or who claim to have a life of truth and love, but their actions tell others, otherwise. On the other hand, I appreciate those who are able to be honest and vulnerable, even at the risk of their own reputations. I aim to be someone who appreciates, encourages, and lives authenticity.  I want people to be able to be real with me. I do not appreciate when people lie because they are too afraid to tell the truth. When people share their hearts with me without hesitation and with all honesty, I always strive to value that. One person that I believe had an authentic soul was Rachel Joy Scott, one of my faith heroes, who was murdered in a school shooting, almost 20 years ago.  She didn’t hesitate to write about and discuss her struggles with her faith, and she lived her faith in Christ well–loving others as she had been loved by God and others through caring about the new people in her school, the disabled, and the hurting.
  2. Do your best.—My dad always encourages me to do my best, even when doing so, may not always produce desirable results. My dad does not expect perfection of my brother and me, but he does expect our very best.  However, I did not fully heed this practice until an incident in fourth or fifth grade, when I refused to read a book about the Gold Rush because it bored me to death. However, when I had to do a presentation about it, I had to read (or at least, skim) the book in order to do well on it. I ended up passing this portion by the skin of my teeth. Since then, I have almost always strived to do my best with what I could. This has led me to try my best to achieve what I can in many areas of my life, including my job and my relationships with others.
  3. Never stop caring about other people.—I wrote once, as my Facebook status, that we become monsters when we stop caring about others. I have seen that monstrous part come out in even myself when I stop caring about other people. Too many times, I have seen or heard about it coming out in others who stopped caring, even if only for a moment, too.  Thus, I aim to never stop caring about others, as much as possible.  Yes, sometimes constantly caring about those around me can be exhausting and even overwhelming, but I think it is still worth it.  When you genuinely care about others, you can change lives for the better.  When I try to encourage those who need it, I find that they are more joyful and have at least some of the needed boost to their day.  We care about others mainly by assigning value to them.  One way you can do this today is to write a heartfelt note to someone who has made a positive difference in your life or by verbally and sincerely thanking them.  Sometimes we all need the encouragement that our good deeds and efforts matter in this life, and that someone cares about us.  My favorite aunt has always striven to care about others.  I have written in a previous post, that when she offered to host us during our trip to see her and the rest of our relatives, she became very ill. Despite this, she continued doing what she could to care for and accommodate us.  I aim to be like her in caring about the people in my life.
  4. Live with passion.—For many years, I have lived with little passion. Sure, I had, what I would call, “bursts of passion,” but they never lasted more than a couple of weeks. However, since getting my current job and being part of my current church, I have had renewed passion for life. I aim to be passionate about everything I do.  For instance, at my job, I do not just want to do enough to “get by,” but I want to do my very best, with a positive and energetic attitude. Yes, sometimes I will fail at this, but this is my goal every single day.  I do not want to delve into a depressed or passionless life anymore, but I want to do everything with meaning, purpose, and/or joy.  My friend Veronica* (*=not her real name) lives with passion.  Not only does she aim to care about those around her, but she aims to live with passion and joy in everything she does.  Her smile and her infectiously joyful spirit are the attitudes I want to possess also for myself.
  5. Look for the best in people always.—With all the negativity in the world and in social media, I want to “upset the apple cart,” so to speak, by looking for the best in humanity, rather than dwelling on the worst in humanity. I aim to watch more positive videos, both on YouTube and elsewhere, about people doing kind and uplifting things for others. I aim to try to remove myself from conversations where people are speaking negatively and gossiping about someone else.  In my aim to encourage people, I want to be able to look to the best in the people who I surround myself, and help the light in them shine and grow.

These are the five convictions I strive to live by, not only to be successful in my own life, but, more importantly, to share the love I found in God and others, with those in my life.  We should always be authentic, so we can give others the chance to love us for who we really are, not just an image we project to outsiders.  We should always do our best so we can be satisfied that we did all we could in life, and have no regrets about what we did or didn’t do.  We should care about others, so that we can make a positive difference in this world and bring love to others.  We should live with passion, so that we always have hope and purpose in our lives.  Finally, when we look for the best in others, we can help the sunshine in them grow and thrive.

How Suffering Can Build Character

Ever since I was an infant, I have always hated suffering.  I don’t only hate going through suffering and trials, but I hate to see other people I love in pain. Violence on television sometimes makes me cringe.  However, in the past few years, I have learned over and over again, had it not been for certain bouts of suffering in my life, I would have never been the kind of person I am now.  I am still far from perfect. However, I can attest that most, if not, all the trials in my life have served to strengthen and better me as a person.  Here is what I learned about how certain areas that I experienced suffering in my life have helped build my character.

Suffering physically/health-wise

For regular readers of this blog, you have probably read the story about when I almost died in June 2014.  To make a long story short, I started having more and more pain in my side area of my body. I thought it may have been from heavy lifting, until I started throwing up blood. Thankfully, the doctors and nurses found the source of the problem: my gallbladder, which was twice the size it should have been, inflamed, and had at least several gall stones in it.  Then, the next day, the gallbladder was taken out before it could have burst—just in time.  During and after this ordeal, I learned many things.  First of all, I learned not to take life for granted, especially the time spent with loved ones, because you never know when your time is up on this earth.  Secondly, I learned how lonely and depressing being sick and/or bed-bound can be. I only experienced this for about several days, and already I was depressed and had cabin fever.  I could only imagine how people who cannot get out of bed for weeks and months at a time must feel! Thus, this incident has caused me to pray more for people in my congregation who are sick and have more compassion for those that cannot get out of bed.  One of my pastors told the congregation about how people in our church who have been battling cancer do not come to the pastors first, but to other people who have been through the same thing they have, and thus would have more experience and compassion in how to best deal with their situation.

Being bullied in school and elsewhere

Some people I have met in the past few years would probably not believe that when I was growing up, I struggled a lot with making friends and was getting picked on regularly by my peers, because my life is so different now. However, I remember, especially in middle school and my first year of high school, people mocking me for everything from my ethnicity to the clothing I wore.  To make matters worse, most of the teachers were either unaware of what was happening or partly blamed me for being victimized by my own peers and thought I should try to “fit in” better.  (NOTE: Abuse and bullying is NE VER the victim’s fault!)  Also, some people pitied me and tried/pretended to be my friend, but they never stuck around long.  Even though these years were some of my most miserable and depressing, these events also served to strengthen my moral character. Out of these events, God developed in me a heart of care for all those who have ever been abused and/or bullied by others before. To this day, I have a strong urgency to do something to help those who have experienced abuse, bullying, or any other type of injustice. I do not want other people to experience the loneliness, desolation, and depression that I had experienced during some of those years in school.  I also don’t want people to think that they are unimportant or insignificant to this world, because every single person can make a positive contribution to this world. (Yes, this includes you!) If I had never been bullied in school, I would probably be extremely narcissistic and self-centered, as I was before this experience.  Even though I would not wish these experiences on anyone, I am thankful that I learned how to not treat people and thus, by default, know to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  I learned the high value of all people, even the ones that don’t stand out as much in this world.

Being unemployed or underemployed

There are many people I know that assume that most people can find a job in several weeks, and if they take longer that they are either “lazy” or “incompetent” in some way. I used to be one of those people when I was growing up.  However, during the times when I was looking for a job, I realized how arduous and discouraging the task can be, especially if you struggle with a disability or are somehow labeled as “different” from the normative idea of an “employable” person.  The interview itself can be very nerve-wracking. Something as insignificant as clothing choice or perfume smell can negatively impact an interview and also the chances of the applicant getting the job. This trial helped me in at least two ways: 1) I have more compassion for people who have a difficult time finding a job, but who still try, or even those that cannot work at all, no matter how hard they try.  2) I appreciate the job that I now have more because of the work and time it took me to get to where I am even now.  I work harder because I relish the joy of being able to be productive and make a difference in other’s lives.  I don’t take my job for granted, but have passion in what I am doing.

General suffering

In general, going through the trials I have has made me be able to comfort others who are going through similar things that I have gone through before. I am able to relate to them on a deeper, more intimate level, than if I couldn’t relate to them at all.  I have been able to develop more compassion for those who are suffering.  Also, I have hope, that, through the most difficult things that I experienced, that future trials will a.) Either not be as bad or b.) I will be able to overcome them with the help of God and of the people that will come into my life to help me through it.  Finally, through all the pain and hurt I have been through and witnessed others go through, I have realized both the value of people and time.  Because of this realization, I have been able to let certain irritants go  and just focus on making the best of my time with the people that love and care for me.