Shifting Perspectives, or: being bloody grateful

Can you grill tonight?

I stare at the text for a moment before opening my weather app. Real feel: 111°F. Humidity percentage… syrupy. I wince, even as I type out my response: Yep 🙂

Later, I click the trigger on the lighter. As I point it to the grill, the side door opens.

“DADDY! DADDY! LIZA’S WHOLE MOUTH BROKE!!!”

I see the lighter’s purple plastic handle hit the concrete first. My legs feel like they’re running through a pool. I pass a panicked Zuzzy then through the side door.

I see blood. I hear screaming children to my left, my wife shrieking on my right.

Stay calm, JT. Your family needs you calm, JT. Just keep holding Liza, JT. So much blood. Tooth missing. Is that a hole in her chin! So much blood! JUST CALM YOURSELF DOWN, JT!!!

Liza, Zuzzy, and my wife rush to the emergency room. I get Zack ready for bed, check my phone every two minutes. Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting. All this waiting made me think.

I have two categories: earned and given.

What’s Earned: Your life outcome/success. I allocate much of my attention and resources into this category since I believe input = output.

What’s a Given: The platform to make that success possible, such as a job. Or your mental and physical health. Or your friends, family, and their health.

I believed that waking up without pain, with full faculty of mind and body to conquer the day is normal. I believed that having family and friends do the same is normal, that they, too, woke up the same way I do. That is my base level assumption. This experience with Liza forced me to redefine my what’s a given list.

My givens are actually a brittle category with the potential to be shattered in a trip of a moment. With that in mind, I came to a fork in the road. The left arrow points to worry, specifically that something will happen to me or people I care about. The right arrow points to gratitude.

I turn right.

Health, both mental or physical, are not things we are owed. They are gifts. My “what’s a given” is actually a “what’s been given.”  Today I was given another day of health and time with loved ones.

I don’t want to take that lightly anymore. Entitlement is the silent killer of joy.

I’m grateful.

There are other benefits to being grateful, too. Researchers have discovered that gratitude improves your mental, physical, and sleep health. You tend to eat better and exercise more when you’re grateful. Something mundane can make you happier and healthier. Sounds like a good deal, but how do we cultivate that?

4 Tips for More Gratitude

  • Fake it ’til you make it. Even if you don’t feel like it, think about what you’re grateful for. Dr. Alex Korb writes in Psychology Today that “once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.” The act of searching out gratitude creates gratitude–it’s a self-sustaining cycle.
  • Make it routine. My family and I started a tradition earlier this year. At almost every family meal, we go around asking what we’re thankful for. Why limit this practice to only Thanksgiving Day? Another option would be to keep a journal: an ongoing list of things that you appreciate, things for which you’re grateful, gifts (and I don’t just mean physical ones you get for your birthday) you want to remember.
  • Don’t wait. Don’t wait to lose something or someone before you realize how much you are grateful for it, for them. Don’t wait to express that gratefulness, either.
  • Shift your perspective. Sometimes perspective drops in like an unexpected guest. Read on to make it more welcoming.

The Missing Medal

One day, KD Delucky returns to her dorm room to find 4 Olympic Gold medals on her shelf.

Where’s the fifth one? she wonders. She turns on every light. She scans the floor under the shelf. She opens her minifridge. She sweeps her arm under her bed. Nothing. She opens her drawers. Rummages through her closet. Nope. She blasts the news on social media.

She sits on her bed to regroup when something cold and solid edges into her side.

“I found it! I found it!”

She runs down the hall hugging everyone she sees.*

Worth and Value

Worth is the price at which something sells. For the sake of this story, let’s assume each of KD’s medals is identical. That means they have the same worth, but they can still have different values.

Value is what it means to you. Before KD walked into her dorm, she valued each gold medal the same. Once she walked into her room and saw that it was missing, the fifth medal’s value sharply increased. Nothing about Medal 5’s value changed–its worth remained high throughout–until its circumstances changed. And once she realized its value to her, the others increased in value as well because she no longer took them for granted.

Gratitude reconciles value to worth. My children are worth more than just about anything else to me, but I don’t always value my time with them as much as I should–because I assume time with them is a given.

And when we go long without assessing what we’re grateful for, the relationship between value and worth take random walks and end up in all sorts of places. It takes a big event to jolt our values back into alignment with true worth. Practicing gratefulness more often yokes them equally so that we can maximize our resources on our high worth assets.

How Gratitude Becomes Real

Someone once looked for us. Someone once went to unimaginable lengths to find us. What was our value to him? Greater than his own life.

We are the gold medal. I’m forever grateful that I’m found.


 

Many hours later, the text finally comes: A few blocks away. Tooth broken. Chin adhered with tape. She’s fine.

Immediately I pace the front of my house. I see them parking at the end of the block. I walk to the car and take her firmly into my arms. My Liza is back.


*Luke 15:8-10


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2 Comments

  • Tfell August 16, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Every day, either in the morning or before bed, list five things you’re grateful for. It’s such a simple exercise, but it can radically flip your perspective around, making your life a lot more enjoyable and raising the value of every relationship and situation you find yourself in.

    Reply

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