Having a Bad Day? Bad Month? Bad Year? Be Thankful for It.

Have you ever adopted an exercise routine to help you improve your health, lose weight, and perhaps get some more energy?

This routine might include a combination of aerobic (i.e. running, cycling, etc.) and anaerobic activity (resistance training with weights). Both forms of exercise will, especially when you are first starting out, result in some measure of pain. There is no way to avoid it.

Now let me ask another question: if you are embarking upon such work to achieve a higher goal, such as greater wellness and longevity (presumably not just for your own benefit but for those close to you), how does that make the pain feel?

Chances are, you are actually feeling some gratitude for this pain, are you not? This is because you know what the pain represents: when doing challenging exercise (especially in resistance training), you push your muscles to the point of cellular damage. The pain is the result of that damage, and also represents the subsequent healing (after which the muscles become stronger). In fact, it is through pain that your health benefits are truly realized.

I share this example because as we embark upon yet another Thanksgiving here in America, I bet there are a lot of people out there who are wondering what they should feel thankful for. Don’t forget: Thanksgiving officially marks the beginning of the season that witnesses an increase in stress and depression among many of us–quite often because we don’t feel like we have anything to feel joyful or thankful for (although the notion that actual suicides increase in December, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is a myth–and thankfully so!).

Typically, when giving thanks, we look for things that are positive on the surface:

  • If we have a great job, we are thankful for it.
  • If we have good health, we are thankful for it.
  • If our relationships are healthy and positive, we are thankful for them.
  • If our material needs (and in some cases, wants) are met, we are thankful for it.

Let’s face it: being thankful for just the good things in life is easy. What about those of us who might not be having the best year, or are experiencing some form of adversity in their lives? It could be in any or all areas–personal, professional, financial, and even spiritual. This no doubt impacts our emotions, and our “attitude” of gratitude.

You have no doubt heard the timeless expression, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” (Personally, I prefer Despair.com’s take on this expression, if you will pardon my brief digress…). Frankly, I think it has become a tired cliche that people in pain will often say when they don’t want to sound like they are complaining. I often wonder how many people say it, truly feel it. Or more importantly, truly know it.

Many of us can look back on past adversities and in hindsight understand how those experiences–as well as how we responded to them–ultimately led to a greater good in our lives. Here again, is another example of “easy gratitude.”

So, if you are, right now, enduring some adversity or hardship, my suggestion that you be thankful for it might be the last thing you would want to hear–maybe even offensive. But this suggestion doesn’t come from me–I’m just a messenger. I learned it from the opening paragraphs of the Book of James: and it was the 2×4 upside the back of my head that I needed at a critical point in my life.

But allow me to give a different rationale for maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” for adversity when it hits us. First, a question: Are you willing to accept the principle that, in most cases, how any situation affects us and our life does not lie in the situation itself, but in how we choose to respond to it?

If you do accept this principle, then consider this next question: Is not the choice to give thanks for such adversity–and for the greater good that will ultimately come about–the kind of positive response that God asks of us? This doesn’t require being a Christian to accept either; however I think it’s safe to say that the spirit and concept of Thanksgiving is rooted in giving thanks to a Creator of some kind.

So much of how things in life affect us is determined by our own attitude. If you are not feeling particularly inspired to give thanks this year due to your present circumstances and experiences, please accept my warmest blessings, regards, and hopes for a positive turn for you and yours very soon. I also hope and pray that you can challenge your heart to see purpose in your pain, just as we do when we exercise to achieve greater health and wellness.

So if giving thanks this year proves to be a challenge, I invite you to at least give it a try. You may find a tiny ounce of arduous gratitude to be worth far more than a full ton of its easy counterpart.

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