Particularly when the light is at its dimmest, even the little things to be grateful for can be hard to find. Yet they’re there, if we recognise the importance of gratitude.
I wrote earlier this year about the cancer scare we had with our eldest dog, Max (aka Maxwell when he was in trouble, Maxxy-Mo-Mo’s when he did something cute, Gangly Bag of Elbows when he kicked you in his sleep).
It gave us a shock and at least initially, I wasn’t dealing with it well. We’d not long lost our other old boy, Jack the Westie and with that and *pandemic*, it was one too many things for me to accept and deal with.
And I was okay with that. We’re told time and time again that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, so much so that it’s become a mantra and one that I firmly believe. Sometimes, when it comes to resilience, we just need a little time to work through the curveballs that life throws at us.
Well, earlier this month we said goodbye to Max. The lump removal had gifted us another six months or so with him, but he developed aggressive lymphoma and rapidly deteriorated within a week and a half of his diagnosis.
Having to say goodbye to two of our oldest dogs in the space of a year is tough. They’re dogs two and three that we’ve lost so far and I feel qualified enough to say that it doesn’t get any easier, yet the old platitude of ‘time is a great healer’ is true enough.
It could be so easy to hang on to those last few challenging days and weeks, forgetting the years and years of pure joy and happiness that preceded them but instead, I am choosing to focus on the importance of gratitude.
Why is gratitude so important?
This is where gratitude comes in because, when it comes to Max, there is a huge amount to be thankful for…
- Just like we did with Jack, we got to decide when and how to help him on his way. For the first time, we made it happen at home in the garden, in a place where Max was happy and comfortable for so many years.
- There was a week and a half for us to spoil him even more than the thirteen years of spoiling he’d already had (he even had an early dinner of beef fillet and rice before he left us!).
- As a senior dog, we knew he’d probably have only a year or two left even with the cancer aside, so in truth the super-spoiling started much farther back.
Gratitude sometimes gets a bad rep for itself. If we’re not careful, it can have a tinge of toxic positivity or Pollyanna-syndrome. There’s a huge difference between sticking our head in the sand and hoping for the best, and accepting that yes, things may still be tough, yet there are good things to be found if we just look hard enough.
In fact, the importance of gratitude is consistently supported through research. It is regularly linked with higher levels of happiness, significantly strengthening our mindset and resilience – particularly against adversity – and it can even help our overall wellbeing and the quality of our relationships.
How to develop an attitude of gratitude
Focusing on the importance of gratitude can be simple. To get started, we need to get good at switching off that internal auto-pilot that I recently wrote about; the default mode network in our brain structures that helps us to complete the routine tasks and automatic thought patterns that influence our emotions and behaviour…positively and negatively!
Begin by trying to spot the little things, because the brain will work its hardest to hide them from us, in an effort to keep us alive and safe. Take stock of when the worst doesn’t happen or even, when things go brilliantly because again, our brilliant brain is forever trying to get us prepared for imminent danger.
Then, we can practically help ourselves with the importance of gratitude by keeping track of what we have in our lives to be thankful for.
My preference is a little gratitude jar that I keep by my desk. Of course it’s useful for me to either spend five minutes reflecting at the end of every week or add to it as and when, but the real power comes on those tough days, when I can dip into my gratitude jar to remind myself that all is not as dim as it seems. Lots of people prefer to keep a gratitude journal to use in a similar way. Others simply use the notes app on their phone. Whatever you chose, make gratitude a part of your daily and weekly routine to form a new habit when it comes to recognising and appreciating it.
Finally, and still linked to switching from auto-pilot to manual, is reframing. Simply put, the frame through which we view a situation influences our point of view. Reframing then helps us to look at things through a different lens and with a new, more optimistic perspective. There is huge crossover here when it comes to developing a growth mindset. Start to reflect on what you learned and how you grew to develop more of a positive outlook. For me, when it comes to Max, my reframe has been very much focused on the many happy years we had together, even if the last few weeks were exceptionally tough.
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Before we knew Max’s diagnosis, we decided to bring a new dog into the pack as we thought our other dog Charlie would really struggle being on his own. So five month old Romanian rescue Frankie is now keeping us heavily distracted with her puppy shenanigans. She and Max got to share four days together and she was quite taken with him.
There have been so many mixed, bittersweet emotions but ultimately one more thing I’m grateful for is that it’s felt like a beautiful passing of the torch from the sage, wise elder to the young upstart. Rest in peace Max, knowing that you are loved and say hello to Ellie and Jack for us ❤️