Last week I had one of the worst migraines I can remember.
Sadly, it’s a fact of life I’ve gotten used to, and have learned to manage better over time. But this one really hit me hard. I forgot that this kind of pain existed.
I couldn’t do any writing, reading, typing, or watching TV, so I spent the days either lying down or taking slow walks outside. Sleep was hard to come by, so the days felt long, the pain was relentless, and I started to feel pretty sorry for myself.
On one of my walks I was listening to the On Being podcast in an effort to distract myself.
The title of this particular episode was Anatomy of Gratitude and it was an interview with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, who, as a young boy survived the fascist occupation of his country.
In talking about the horrors he witnessed, he said something so insightful and inspiring that I stopped walking, took out my phone, and rewound the podcast several times just to hear it again:
“Can you be grateful for everything? No. No one can be grateful for war or pain or suffering of a loved one. But within every moment, there is an opportunity to be grateful for something.”
Can you be grateful for everything.
But in every moment.
I’ve spent years studying, practicing, and speaking about gratitude, and his quote in an instant became my favorite. Because right there within it is the essence of not only gratitude, but happiness – whole, genuine, unconditional happiness to which we can connect even when things are difficult, painful, or sad.
Was I grateful for this debilitating migraine? No.
But within that moment I was grateful that I was listening to a podcast and heard something so inspiring. I was grateful that the chilly air made my pain subside a bit. I was grateful knowing that when I came home from my walk my kiddo would run up and ask me how my head was and if I wanted some tea.
Gratitude, like happiness, is not a random feeling or emotion. It’s an action, a response that we can choose to cultivate in any situation. Even those that are painful or sad or difficult. It’s not always easy to do, but we always have a choice to do it.