Life is an exercise in perseverance. If nothing else, 2020 has taught us that. Although we would much rather things be comfortable and smooth, the reality is that all we do undergoes the pit of despair and The Project Mood Curve. Nothing is immune to its shape.
When we face trials and challenges, we have two choices: we can either quit or persevere. Quitting is a formidable option. But if we quit, we just reenter the process from the beginning and will inevitably have to decide once again whether or not we will commit to something.
I really think perseverance is elusive because we are not convinced our goals (really, our vision and values) are worthy of so much pain. In fact, I would say for most people, “avoid pain” is their highest goal. Pain sucks. But avoiding it makes for a pretty lousy mission.
So how do we persevere? How do we find a mission that is worth suffering for?
For a lot of people, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. And while many of those are thinking of turkey and parades, there is something special about a “day of thanks” that speaks to the human spirit.
Gratitude is transformational. It changes the way we see things.
When we were traveling the world with a group of people who were strangers at the beginning of the trip, inevitable conflict arose. Just like with everything else in life, we found ourselves in the pit of despair. Our circumstances became challenging. We would often be sleeping on the ground or staying in unsanitary conditions. We would be stuck in the rain or struggling to get along with one another.
And when one of us got particularly whiny, we would play what we called “The Thankfulness Game”. Basically, if one of our squad mates asked, “what are you thankful for?”, we had to name three things on the spot that we were truly thankful for in that moment.
Sound infuriating? It was. Of course, the natural inclination was to think I’m not thankful for anything! How could I be thankful at a time like this?
But the question made you slow down and think. It made you focus on something you were not focused on the moment before. Misery loves company, even in our own thoughts. Once we are honed in on our discomfort (or anger or sadness), it becomes all we see. One simple question invited us to the very real, very annoying truth – there is more to see here.
Most of the time, The Thankfulness Game answers started with something facetious like, “I am thankful I didn’t feel this way yesterday” or something sarcastic like, “I am sooo thankful for this terrible food.” But even those half-hearted answers changed the posture of participants. It was not a far stretch to say, “I am thankful this won’t last” or “I am thankful to be sharing this experience with you bozos”.
Gratitude is the key to happiness. Science says so.
When we start to see that there is more to our troubles than just trouble, we are on the road to perseverance. Difficult circumstances are also opportunities for choice. They test and prove our mettle. They measure our character and our commitment to the mission. When we lean into thankfulness, we allow ourselves the chance to see what we might have been missing all along – that the pit of despair is both where sorrow dwells and where intimacy develops.