Extreme Gratitude is the Answer
Five years ago, in March 2014, I was turning 50 years old. Not all that uncommon in the history of humankind but significant nonetheless for the one marking the occasion on his or her own personal calendar.
I was not in a celebratory mood at the time, however. I was not in the mood for marking occasions or waxing nostalgic about half a century well-lived.
That's because I was terrified. Terrified and depressed. I was a terrified and depressed cancer patient.
If at that time you would have told me that five years later, in 2019, I'd look back at that time, and even my cancer diagnosis, with gratitude I would have thought you a bit insensitive, maybe even glib. I would not have shared nor appreciated your optimism.
Because five years ago I was feeling sorry for myself. I was awash in self-pity. I tormented myself, wondering why this was happening to me. What had I done to deserve something like this?
I was stuck in limbo, between resentment for a past spent in semi-conscious oblivion and fearful future filthy with bad karma and chickens coming home to roost. I was far from reconciled to what the present situation called for, how I would be offered the chance to learn how to adapt to an uncertain, often-scary, ever changing world.
Because what the situation called for was extreme gratitude. Not just being thankful. Not just appreciating what I had. Not just being grateful that things weren't worse.
Extreme gratitude is an always-on attitude, a way of encountering all things -- people, events, situations -- as potential teachers.
Extreme gratitude is relentlessly active mental hack which can be used to re-frame any situation to find the learning that is your due.
Extreme gratitude not only makes it possible to pivot from "why is this happening to me" to "why is this happening for me;" eventually you will stop asking yourself the first question and go straight to the second.
Extreme gratitude is, by definition, extreme: in scope, breadth and intensity. Nothing is omitted or rejected. Nothing is too small or banal for its loving embrace; nothing is too big or overwhelming to be turned around and reconsidered from the perspective of extreme gratitude.
Several key ideas lie at the heart of the extreme gratitude mindset:
Focus on the only thing within your control. How our mind responds to things that are outside of our control is the only thing within our control.
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. If you're not dead yet then keep going and make the best of the life you have yet to live.
Amor fati. Learn to love your fate and everything that happens to you along the way.
We have a choice in how we view challenging situations. How do things shift when we ask why this is happening for us rather than to us?
Adversity can be our teacher. Anything or anyone has the potential to teach us something we don't already know, or remind us of those things we have forgotten.
There's always something to be grateful for. If you can't find anything you're doing it wrong.
Extreme gratitude is a lifestyle choice, a way of navigating the world, a mode of greeting every challenging situation or person in a spirit of curiosity and openness.
If I can only quiet my mind, dampen my initial emotional reaction, I can settle into a receptivity that will eventually be repaid with some knowledge that was hidden from me.
The good news about extreme gratitude is also the bad news: you're going to get a lot of practice. During our lives we will be faced with many challenges, large and small. Each of these challenges is an opportunity to practice extreme gratitude
My prostate cancer diagnosis led me to become the healthiest version of myself ever, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It also led me to discover, after 50+ years, my purpose in life: to help people take control of their health and well-being through simple lifestyle hacks (like the practice of extreme gratitude). That's something to be grateful for.
My children's struggles, though often heart-breaking, have helped me open to empathy, to lead with my heart instead of my head, and to cultivate the patience to accept things that I can't understand, without judgement, until I'm better able to make sense of them. That's something to be grateful for.
The end of my nearly three decades long marriage forced me to reckon with my failings as a partner and to confront how my many needs and insecurities made it hard for love to flourish. This made it possible for me to let go of the baggage of bitterness and resentment and become a man that was capable of love -- and being loved -- again. That's something to be grateful for.
This is the power of extreme gratitude. It's not magic. It doesn't require any particular skill or intelligence. It's neither expensive nor difficult to find. And it's deceptively simple (not to be confused with easy).
This is the Health Warrior Way.