Gratitude and The Philosopher’s Stone

“Gratitude…goes far beyond saying ‘thank you’. When we are grateful, we affirm that a source of goodness exists in our lives.”  —Dr. Robert Emmons

Recently I came down with a terrible stomach flu which caused me to cancel a week of events in my calendar, that I was really looking forward to. Instead, I bore the drudgery of the flu, moving between the couch and the bed for days.

These are the times when I reach deep into my positive psychology tool belt, pull out just the right one and put it to work for me. Since my tolerance for physical pain and doctor visits is less than stellar, it’s easy for me to become irritable and fall into pessimistic thinking.

This inspired me to write about “Gratitude” for my blog this month, because it’s my “Philosopher’s Stone.” The story of the philosopher’s stone, from Greek mythology, is a thought-provoking legend about an elixir substance which gave alchemists the power to turn base metal into gold—something we all wish we could do. Metaphorically speaking, this is what we want to do in those moments when we are having a “base metal” experience, like I was having. Some thought the power was derived from the stone itself, others a chemical reaction, and some suggested that it was something invisible that had the power to transform.

When we are down in the dumps, whether physical or emotional, everything around us seems dull. It’s difficult to generate motivation, feel hopeful, or have the positive and optimistic thinking required for solution finding. Understandably, many everyday situations that come at us can be difficult to bear or maneuver with grace. Life can just be down right messy sometimes. This is where the practice of “Gratitude” has the power to invisibly transform “feeling in the dumps” back into “gold experiences.”

Photo credit: David Cordova

Gratitude is many things beyond the initial definition of thanking someone for something kind they have done for you. It is also:

  • AN EMOTION— Think about a time when you felt truly grateful. How were you feeling at that moment? You’d likely answer that you felt happy, warm, peaceful, or joyful. This is a positive state that can be generated by simply thinking about or acknowledging something you are grateful for.
  • A VIRTUOUS CHARACTER STRENGTH— Some people, no matter how much adversity they are facing, have the ability to focus on and find goodness that is happening simultaneously. This is a strength that is within reach of all of us, and when found can transform our lives for the better.
  • A WAY OF LIFE— Small acts of gratitude such as keeping a gratitude journal, reaching out and thanking someone for making your day easier, or simply catching yourself complaining, and instead, making it a game to find as many things to be grateful for in the remainder of the day as possible.

This is how I got through that lousy week, by allowing gratitude for all the goodness that happened simultaneously. It’s always there, somewhere, and truly does have the power to transform. That’s why it will remain my elixir of magic during the worst of times.

Maybe it’s already your way too, but if not, give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Big hugs,
Robin Cordova