Are you aware on an intellectual level of the many blessings in your life, but you’re just not feeling it?

Have you been trying to talk yourself into how fortunate you are despite your limitations (be they health, financial or otherwise), but it hasn’t make you feel any better?

Do you call to mind all the people who have it so much worse than you in an effort to make yourself feel grateful for what you have…but it isn’t working?

If you said “yes” to any of these experiences, then you know how I feel sometimes. Despite being chronically ill, I am blessed in so many ways, but there are days when I just can’t see it.

As Zen master Jiashan said: "When a dragon appears in the water, the fish don't notice the pearl in the dragon's mouth." When that dragon is swimming around me, I can spend hours telling myself that I ought to be finding that pearl. But it remains hidden to me, and so that kind of lecture doesn’t lift my mood or make me feel any more appreciative about my life.

The last time I felt this way, I decided to try a different tactic. Instead of trying to talk myself into big gratitude—a lecture that is always packed with judgmental “shoulds” and “oughts”—I decided to think small. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Thinking big: “I should be grateful every single day that I live in a nice house with my own backyard.”

Thinking small: “That’s a pretty little bird in the yard.”

Thinking big: “I must never forget to be thankful that my children are supportive.”

Thinking small: “That was nice of my daughter to text me today.”

Thinking big: “I should be letting my husband know all the time how grateful I am for all he does for me.”

Thinking small: “That was sweet of him to cook dinner for me tonight.”

Thinking big: “I should be appreciating all the things I can still do even though I’m chronically ill.”

Thinking small: “I’m glad I know how to crochet. I think I’ll start a scarf.”

Thinking big: "I need to be grateful that my illness isn’t life-threatening."

Thinking small: "I’m grateful that my pain levels aren’t high today."

Thinking small doesn’t mean trying to talk myself out of my unappreciative mood by giving myself a lecture about everything I have to be grateful for. Instead, it means acknowledging that I feel pretty thankless at the moment, and then looking around for some little thing to appreciate.

Finding that little thing—a bird in the yard, a text message, a meal prepared with love—opens my heart a little, and once that hard shell around my heart softens, it can open a little more to the many pearls that life is offering me.

So, if you’re in a thankless mood and gratitude is hard for you to find at the moment, look around and see if you can find just a thing or two that might help you feel good about the life you have.

In other words, think small.

© 2014 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010)

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes.

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information and buying options.

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You might also like “Tapping into Self-Compassion to Ease Everyday Suffering.”

Gratitude graphic/Toni Bernhard

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