Living with gratitude
Having gratitude and then living with gratitude can enrich your life in numerous ways. When we appreciate what we have or what we have experienced we are much more likely to enjoy ourselves and our environments. Instead of looking for what we want or regretting what we missed, we become more engaged and focused on what is with us now.
One of the most difficult transitions anyone can ever face is accepting a new normal or realizing you may not be able to continue engaging in a passion of yours despite a strong desire to do so. Gratitude can make a huge difference when handling such change. Take the example of a high-level gymnast who had dedicated her life to her sport and was forced to end her career due to injury. For years she had balanced a schedule that included 60 hours a week at the gym, home schooling, and travel for competitions to help her achieve her dreams. After meeting with her doctors following a significant injury she was advised to discontinue her passion if she wanted to avoid the risk of living the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
The gymnast met with a sport psychologist to help her work through this transition. Together they identified the enduring value of having been a high-level athlete in her sport, which helped the gymnast recognize the gratitude she had in her life for being able to participate as long as she had. The gymnast had not given herself credit for being able to do things most humans would never do; nor had she recognized how much she was comparing herself to other gymnasts instead of focusing on her own individual qualities. She had not seen the values she had gained from a lifestyle that drove her to persevere and overcome obstacles. The gymnast slowly became aware of how much of gymnastics would remain with her despite no longer competing.
The gymnast would continue to desire to compete in her sport for the rest of her life; however, she was not longer devastated by her loss and more capable of enjoying herself and the other areas she could develop. She faced new challenges and remained grateful for everything gymnastics had given her.
Being grateful is more than just an idea. It is a feeling, an awareness, and an attitude. We may be influenced by what others or society tell us to desire or value, but in our hearts we know where to place worth and what to appreciate. It can be difficult as an athlete because winning and statistics can corner your mind into a comparison existence (am I better or worse, more or less successful, etc.). Focusing on the gratitude that you have for what you have learned about yourself and your abilities should sweep away these other perspectives that can prevent us from enjoying what we have.
We learn about our strengths and limitations, our ability to overcome (resilience), and our personal self-worth when we engage in sports and perform to our utmost ability. No other person can tell us how hard we tried, how much effort we put forth, or where our mindset was focused. This belongs to us and us alone.
Some athletes pay the ultimate price in injury and are no longer able to participate in the activity that helped mold them into who they are. Those with true insight and gratitude will tell you that they wouldn’t trade a moment of their participation for the pain or restrictions resulting from the injury. This is because they became who they are today through their sport and performance; it would be hard for them to imagine being anything else.
Practicing Gratitude: 1) focus on awareness (recognize the things in your life for which you can be grateful); 2) learn about yourself through your sport (how to handle pressure; overcoming disappointment; modesty); 3) use comparison to help in understanding but not to value (understand why you admire someone’s performance but don’t value yourself on the basis of your perception of them); 4) accept what you have or have access to and limit your focus on things beyond your reach; 5) recognize gratitude is a skill, attitude, and way of life (have patience and work on it).