I'm Learning To Practice Gratitude, And It Is Saving My Life

I'm Learning To Practice Gratitude, And It Is Saving My Life

I am thankful to God for all those bad things in my life, because I wouldn't be carved the way I am any other way.

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I am naturally not an angry person. Due to a life philosophy based on my values and experiences with my family, I have made it a point, my entire life, to express anger as little as possible, to think of how a situation is my fault when something goes wrong. There are pros and there are cons, but I've seen firsthand, in the people close to me, the angry and aggressive type of person I didn't want to be. Anything else, for me, would be a success.

That's why recently, I've been dismayed that I have felt flashes of anger and resentment, towards others, towards the world, and even towards God. The circumstances in my life have not been easy. People in my family have been dealing with a wide affliction of illnesses. In the transitional and uncertain period I'm currently living, I simply cannot survive bearing the burden of everything being my fault, all the time. I once wrote an article about why you shouldn't ask God "why?" when it seems like so many things are going wrong in life and crashing down, and here I was going against the very grain of my wisdom, hypocritically exhibiting the very thoughts I once condemned.

I know I cannot control how I feel, so I sought out help for what to do about my newfound resentment and anger. Left unresolved, I knew it was poison, to myself and to the people around me. I have always been kind, peaceful, and loyal to others, and believe it to be my life goal to get people to believe in themselves. People didn't blame me for my resentment, as my life circumstances and pain have been consuming, but I did not want myself turning bitter.

The truth is whether I'm right or wrong to be angry doesn't matter: I could defend and argue millions of ways in which I'm righteous or justified in any situation. But doing so does not make anything better. I only turn more resentful, and at the end of the day, it is more important to me to be kind than to be right. Fortunately, I had the maturity to notice these patterns in my thinking and behavior, and I sought out the advice from counselors, ministers, and trusted friends.

"I just get these pangs and flashes of resentment nowadays," I told each one of them. "And I hate it. I hate feeling this way. What can I do to stop it?"

Almost all of them had the same answer: gratitude. Resentment and gratitude are two sides of the same coin, so to resolve anger, I had to be more thankful for the ways other people showed up in my life and for the ways God showed up in my life. Every day, make sure to think of three things to be thankful for.

Renowned priest Henri Nouwen wrote, in Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements of the Spirit, that "resentment...replaces faith, hope, and charity with fear, doubt, and rivalry. It makes an enormous difference in our personal and communal lives whether we respond to life in anger and resentment, or in love and gratitude." Catholics often preach living a eucharistic life, and the root word for eucharist is the Greek word, charis, which means graciousness. So a eucharistic life is a life of gratitude.

So how do people go from resentment to gratitude? How was I supposed to go from resentment to gratitude? Nouwen goes on to state that "resentment is exactly the complaint that life does not unfold the way we planned; that our many goals and projects are constantly interrupted by the events of the hour, the day, and the year." I do have too much of a tendency to plan out how I want my life to be and where I want my life to go. I have a tendency, consequently, to view anything that happens that drives me off course as an inconvenience or interruption.

But Nouwen offers us an analogy against that strict grain of thinking. He once saw a stonecutter cut off big pieces of a big rock, and in his imagination, he condemned the stonecutter for wounding the rock. But as he looked longer, he observed the figure of a dancer appear from the rock. The longer we live, and the more we relate to others, the more it will feel like someone or something is chiseling away at our hearts. I know firsthand that as early as two years ago, my heart was an impenetrable wall of stone. Gradually, being in connection and conversation with my close friends led to that wall breaking down more and more, so much so that I made it my 2018 New Year's Resolution to be more vulnerable. For the first time, I succeeded in a resolution.

Just writing that, I'm thankful for how far I've come. I can't believe I'm in the place I am now and that I have grown, matured, and transformed exponentially in the past four years. It was not part of my plan when I first came into college: the plan was initially to go in, get a 4.0 GPA, get a perfect score on the MCAT, run really fast times on the track, and get a lot of medical-related extracurriculars to pad my resume and look good for medical school. I accomplished none those plans fully. Instead, I've written 210 Odyssey articles, most of which are very meaningful, found my friends for life, found my faith and spiritualism, and discovered a passion for mentoring people to believe in themselves. That passion grew so strong that for the next few years, instead of going straight into medical school, I'm going to teach English at an inner-city high school for a couple of years.

According to Nouwen also, "resentment makes us blind to God's carving hand, but gratitude helps us recognize the process - that slowly but surely, we are being formed into a beautiful work of art." Through gratitude, we become people who can offer our pain as healing for others. Any time we lose things, whether it is a plan, behavior, friendship, or community, it is going to hurt a lot. There is a void and open space where that thing we lost used to be. I currently have that space, and lately, I have been filling it with too much bitterness, too much resentment and regret, too many thoughts of "what should have been."

When I am grateful for people in my life, however, my perspective begins to resemble that of the dancer, who leads me to "believe again, even amid my pain, that God will orchestrate and guide my life." Mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That means recognizing that everything is part of the plan, even the very things we are angry and resentful for. "Everything is grace," Nouwen writes. We can't remember our pasts as ties where the good should be remembered and the bad should be forgotten, but all of these events as opportunities to grow and convert our hearts.

"Let us not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now, receive it with gratitude, and see it in the light of a loving God who guides us day to day."

Most of my friends are not very religious or spiritual, but the point still stands. We aren't who we are in spite of the good or bad in our lives; we are who we are because of the good and bad in our lives. That means we must see everything that has happened in our lives as a gift. Having that attitude and perspective is saving my life. Terrible things have happened in my life, as have terrible things happened in all your lives. Death, grief, sorrow, depression, loneliness and suffering are phenomena pervasive to every person in the world.

But I am thankful to God for all those things in my life, because I wouldn't be carved the way I am any other way.

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An Open Letter To My Unexpected Best Friend

You came out of nowhere and changed my life for the better.
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“It’s so amazing when someone comes to your life and you expect nothing out of it but suddenly there right in front of you is everything you ever need.”

-Unknown

Dear Unexpected Best Friend,

You were the person I never thought I would speak to and now you are my very best friend. You came out of nowhere and changed my life for the better. I can’t thank you enough for everything you have done to shape me into the person I am today. You’ve taught me what it means to be selfless, caring, patient, and more importantly adventurous.

You don’t realize how much better my life has become and all because you came out of nowhere. I didn’t see you coming. I just saw you on occasion, and now I can’t see my life without you in it. It’s funny how life works itself out like that. Our unexpected friendship filled a hole in my life that I didn’t know existed.

I don’t even remember what life was like before you came along; it most likely had a lot less laughter and spontaneity than it does today. I can call you about anything and you would drop whatever you're doing to help me in any situation. You know when I need encouragement. You know when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. You always know exactly what to say.

SEE ALSO: 8 Tiny Lies Every Young Woman Has Told Their Best Friend

I couldn’t have found a better friend than you if I tried. We balance each other out in the best way possible. You are most definitely the ying to my yang, and I don’t care how cliché that sounds. Because of you, I’ve learned to stop caring what people think and to do my own thing regardless of any backlash I might receive. You are my very favorite part of what makes me who I am to this day.

It’s as if I wished up a best friend, and poof—you appeared right in front of me. I am so beyond blessed to have you and I wouldn’t trade the world for all our memories. Thanks for coming out of nowhere.

Love you forever and a day.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Medders

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As Girls, We'll Talk About Our Ex-Boyfriends — But Never Our Ex-Best Girl Friend

Growing up means constantly changing. As a result, the best friend we understood better than anyone else can slowly become a stranger.

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As girls, it is rare we discuss ending a friendship with the girl we consider a sister. How exactly do we end a friendship with the girl who truly understands and appreciates us? What causes us to break the bond we share with her? The answers are what cause us to not express our feelings on this.

Rarely do we think about "the why" behind this decision. Yet, breaking up with her feels more devastating than saying it's over to a boyfriend.

I'm still young but noticed that this is something we as girls just do. While speaking to multiple friends this year, there was a good number of girls who either called-it-a-wrap or experienced a girlfriend breaking up with them instead. If any apparent traces of a conversation surfaced, then it usually came far after the initial breakup or happened with everyone but this girl.

However, us girls are a friend of the drama and will end these friendships in a few different ways. I explain them in a different POV because I kept thinking about: how would I feel if someone I care about just decided to drop off the face of the planet without at least a warning? Like, okay bet.

We're all too familiar with ghosting

This happens without any warning. One day you will be laughing together at a party, kickback, or while going out for drinks and then, poof! All of a sudden their existence becomes a myth. The adopted sister who you spoke to every day becomes nonexistent and doesn't grant the opportunity for closure.

Ghosting can occur because of multiple reasons. Maybe she was harboring some long-time resentments that caused her to say no more. Maybe it was jealousy (which causes us to make some ugly decisions and not enjoy the people who remind us of our insecurities), misunderstandings, or just not-clicking. This act screams drama and "I'm done." (Roll curtains). Perhaps, she felt you would be too immature to respect an emotional conversation. Maybe she just couldn't admit that you hurt her.

Don't be so quick to blame yourself though. Being "ghosted" doesn't automatically mean you've done something wrong. A girlfriend who ghosts you instead of just being upfront is also an immature person. She might believe that a discussion is not necessary because confrontation is too intimidating. She's not planning to tell you "the why," either. At this point, all she's doing is opening the door for you to enjoy last-minute shopping with another girl.

Sometimes it's a painful withdrawal

Different from ghosting, withdrawal does not happen as abruptly. It is a slow depart from the friendship in which this girl will progressively begin to ignore you. This can be more bothersome than ghosting because it's ripping the band-aid off slowly. The first sign of her looking for an 'out' from being your friend is minimal effort to keep in touch.

If she is not interested in speaking to you, then it's clear she wants to leave this friendship behind. Obvious signs are no longer responding to phone calls, rarely replying to texts (their messages will also be quite dry), engaging with you less on social media, and always being "busy, sorry." A girl who slowly pulls away from a friendship instead of expressing herself or even ghosting is definitely more comfortable with being passive. She might think you won't allow the friendship to end well.

This breakup tactic gives you enough time to ask her to open up. Ask in person, because their response will be more honest than over text. If bestie decides she won't be telling you the truth and is extremely rude during that conversation then it would be best to just keep it moving.

When it's upfront and personal

This girl does not have a problem expressing her feelings to you. She will let you know exactly what's on her mind. Our besties often range between being the type of girl who asks to speak in private or start a scene.

Moderating this discussion is always possible. If she feels the need to deliver her message in a way that's loud and hurtful rather than helpful... issa "no" from me champ. Unless you were intentionally hurting your friend, you don't need to be treated as a criminal. There is not a need for her to put you on trial and attempt to condemn every single one of your missteps. Everyone messes up and if she feels speaking down to you is the answer then it's an obviously wrong one.

However, maybe the jury says there is evidence of you being a b****. Whether it was accepting the conditions of a one-sided friendship or putting up with your selfish behavior this girl has had enough. An apology may be appreciated, too.

After she's done expressing everything on her mind, the friendship might be over. Or, this conversation can lead to a better friendship for both of you.

Or just general disconnect

This isn't so much a breakup, but just life. Growing up means constantly changing. As a result, the best friend we understood better than anyone else can slowly become a stranger. Regardless if she's held the title of "sister" for years, drifting away from each other happens. You'll notice this because her new intrigues will no longer align with yours. Ultimately, the past will become the only thing you two have in common.

Signs that your friendship is losing its spark are running out of things to talk about, you're both too busy for each other, and haven't really cared to connect in awhile. You'll always have love in your heart for her if it ended well. All of those fun times are stored away as the memories for a laugh on a bad day. After enough time has passed you two will begin sharing hugs instead of awkward glances. After a million, "OMG we should definitely meet up for lunch one day," are exchanged you might actually meet-up next week, too.

Basically, the girls we invite into the more personal aspects of, well, "who we are" matter. They matter as much as knowing why we would want to end it and stop gassing each other up while throwing it back.

None of us are perfect. There are many reasons (underlying or obvious) a friendship ends. Personally, I feel talking about anything that's bothering us is valid. If you're able to resuscitate a friendship, then why not try to make its lifeline bounce back? If she's a real friend, then she'll listen and try to understand where you're coming from.

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