“No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away” – Viktor Frankl
After an unimaginable series of events, the men and women of the internment camps lost everything: their homes, their parents, their husbands and wives, their children, all their possessions, their clothing, even their hair. From our current vantage point, this scale of robbery is almost impossible to comprehend.
After reading Frankl’s story, it’s hard not to feel guilty.
My life has been filled with advantage and abundance; I have been given every opportunity to attain health, education, connection, and advancement. My possibilities are basically boundless. Despite this, I still find things to complain about, I still feel sorry for myself, and I still periodically neglect the most important things in life. Mind you, I don’t view this is a personal flaw or something to beat myself up over, but it certainly is unfortunate – why do I tend to notice what’s lacking rather than the richness that surrounds me?
Because of perspective and where I have invested my attention.
Consider marketing. From the time I was born, up until now, I have been systemically indoctrinated with the belief that I need more. More what? More everything. Look younger, feel better, grow wings, drive this, drive that, need this, want that, open happiness. My attention is ceaselessly directed to what I don’t yet have; imagine instead that those messages pointed me toward the abundance that I’m already surrounded by! My world, your world, our world would all be completely different.
Most of us are incredibly rich, yet made to feel poor. A sad state of affairs. Given this, it’s up to us to reorient ourselves, to take back control of our attention, to notice all the things in our lives that we have to be grateful for.
Research has shown that by actively practicing gratitude, our ability to feel joy increases, our energy levels improve, our confidence levels improve, we become more enthusiastic, and more. This shift in attention can literally change our lives; from lack to wealth, from absence to abundance.
Sounds great! But it might not be as easy as flipping a switch.
On what should have been the single greatest day ever, liberation day, Frankl and his mates experienced a strange phenomenon: “in the evening when we all met again in our hut, one said secretly to the other, ‘Tell me, were you pleased today?’ And the other replied, feeling ashamed as he did not know that we all felt similarly, ‘Truthfully, no!’ We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly”.
Albeit our deficit is nowhere near that of a liberated inmate; still, this passage illustrates the point that the ability to feel grateful can be weakened. Therefore, we must aim to strengthen our capacity to notice and appreciate that which is wonderful.
Finding Gratitude in Relationships
Imagine someone your close to: a friend, a significant other, a child, a parent, any one. What do you love about them? What do they bring into your life? What memories do you cherish the most?
Frankl didn’t even have the opportunity to say good-bye – while searching for a friend he arrived at the camp with, another prisoner pointed to a plume of smoke rising into the sky: “That’s where your friend is, floating up to Heaven”.
Find gratitude for your loved ones through recalling your most special memories and the ridiculous jokes and all the kindness they’ve shown. Focus on what makes them unique and loveable, who they are, as a person, and all the positive benefits that they bring into your life. Even consider how much different life would be without them; what it would be like if, like Frankl, you never even had the chance to say good-bye.
Go one step further and tell them how special they are to you. Show them through an act of kindness. Make it a mission to identify all the things you love about someone, and then communicate that to them.
Focus on what’s best, on love, feel gratitude.
Finding Gratitude in Food
Never aware of if or when food would be provided, Frankl liked to keep a tiny piece of bread in his pocket and would “tenderly touch it, first stroking it with frozen gloveless fingers, breaking off a crumb and putting it into [his] mouth and finally, with the last bit of will power, pocket it again, having promised [himself] that morning to wait until afternoon” before he ate the scrap.
Needless to say, having access to healthy, nutritious food is something to be extremely grateful for.
Finding Gratitude in Things
“There was great joy at our work site,” said Frankl “when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes (after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and scraps of wood”
Personally, one of the things that I am most grateful for, and one of the main places that I am trying to develop the habit of gratitude, is my bed. That probably sounds completely ridiculous but since reading about Frankl who felt immense joy simply by warming himself for a few minutes after hours of work outside, basically naked, during winter, I’ve come to appreciate my bed in a whole new way. It’s wonderful just to have a bed, let alone one that I find to be so incredibly comfortable. For me, it is something to be grateful for, as Frankl’s story attests.
Where else can you find gratitude in your life? I bet it’s hiding in all sorts of places.