When we focus on gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in. Kristin Armstrong.

We create our own narrative, history, and story we tell our self and others. How we tell it can shape our lives to have more meaning and purpose.

We choose what we include in our story, mostly the highest highs, and lowest lows. We may include something in our story that someone else would leave out because it has no significance to them. It may be a positive thing in our story but would be negative to someone else, or it may have helped us grow and created the wound that will not heal in someone else.

A Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on what he calls “narrative identity. This is the internalized story we create for ourselves. It is our own personal myth. When we want people to understand us we share parts of our story, when we want to understand other people we ask them about parts of their story.

McAdams asks research subjects to divide their lives into chapters and to recount a high point, low point, and turning point. He also encourages participants to examine their values and beliefs. Lastly, he asks them to determine the central theme of their story and to interpret their story’s central theme. It is the interpretation of, not the actual events that are important.

He has discovered how we interpret our lives and our experiences have a huge impact on our lives. The people who are driven to contribute to society and future generations in big ways are more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives. They see the good in the hard times they went through. People who tell redemptive stories rate their lives as being more meaningful than those who don’t tell or tell fewer redemptive stories.

A psychotherapist’s job is to help people tell their story in a more positive way. It isn’t only what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens to us that shapes our life. We can’t control the events that shape our lives; they are usually outside of ourselves. Where we grew up, the economy, the culture, and opportunities shaped our lives.

Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything. Alan Cohen

What is in our control is how we react to what happens in our life. Why do we call the people who grew up in the depression and fought in the second World War the “greatest generation”? They lived through momentous change, they had an incredible work ethic, they were frugal, and they understood sacrifice and honor.

Living through any time in history everyone has to make sense of their own story. No matter when and how we grow up we have to make sense of the circumstances that shape our lives. If we look through the lenses of redemption or contamination we change our reaction to our story. When we can realize we can glean some meaning from the hardships in our life we start to appreciate our life and our lessons. These lessons we might not have been able to learn any other way.

Finding meaning in the hard parts of our life doesn’t mean we wouldn’t change things if we could, but we can’t, all we can do is grow through adversity and pain. We don’t need to be grateful for the horrible things that happen to be grateful for the lessons learned. It is the hardest experiences that teach us the most powerful and transformative lessons.

As I write this I am thinking of someone whose daughter died too soon, with a young baby and a new husband. Her mother has written a book about getting through her and her husband’s hardest days.

Are we better, or bitter because of our story?

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

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Mourning Has Broken: Love, Loss and Reclaiming Joy Hardcover – Feb 26 2019