The Shift from Sorrow to Gratitude

What do you say when you hear that someone you know was in a car accident? Do you ask about the car? No. You ask if they were hurt. And when you hear that everyone is okay, you are grateful.

Later, when you recount the story, instead of talking about your friend’s car being totaled, you talk about how lucky they were and how “it could have been worse.”

I live in northern New Jersey, just outside of New York City, and have been living through Storm Sandy and its aftermath. Over the years we’ve experienced many natural disasters in our area, but nothing close to Storm Sandy. And yet, for the vast majority of us, “it could have been worse.”

Certainly, that was my experience. In summary, I was lucky because I was only inconvenienced—it was a big inconvenience, but no more than that. We lost power in our house for five days (flashlights and candles for light, blankets for warmth at night), had no cell service in our area for five days (drove 10 minutes to nearby towns to get service to be able to text, call, or email on my smartphone), had no internet in our house for an additional three days (eight days in total), and lost power in my office for eight days causing those of us who could find an internet connection to work remotely with our back-up/disaster recovery system. I also waited for hours in line for gas for my car (despite having filled up prior to the storm).

Like I said, I was lucky. As we listened to the news on our battery-operated radios, we learned of the devastation in our area: people were killed and floods and fires destroyed houses and businesses. And we were grateful that our experience wasn’t worse, as it could have easily been.

The neighbor of a friend died when a tree came crashing through the roof of his house. My wife’s college roommate’s house was destroyed by a flood. And my friend Myra’s story is like this:

Like most of us, Myra’s apartment lost power the night the storm hit, before she went to sleep. Around 1:00am, Myra was woken by the sound of sirens, blaring fire truck horns, and announcements to evacuate. In a bit of a shocked stupor, she rolled over in bed and lowered her feet to the floor only to find that she was standing in two feet of water.

Now she was even more shocked. She left the house and was evacuated to a shelter. Most of her possessions are ruined, she has to find a new place to live, and there is much more to her story and what she has had to deal with during the days since the storm.

A week after the storm, using internet access at my brother’s house, my weekly blog post talked about the happiness strategy of focusing on gratitude—making lists of what you are grateful for, and a variation that I like, asking, “What Made You Smile This Week?” Myra read the post and posted this comment:

I need to reflect on what made me smile this week during one of the most trying weeks of my life.  

A hot cup of tea when I had spent the night cold and shivering afraid of what the morning would bring.

That first hot shower after the storm, and a warm bed to sleep in.

The fact that so many friends and strangers have reached out to help me and my neighbors.

A man who showed up at my apartment complex and brought hot soup and rolls. Some of my neighbors had been staying there with no heat, electric, or clean water. 

The polls were open and I was able to vote.

Every day this week I have found so many things to smile about. I may have smiled more this week than the week before this storm.  I had more to be grateful for the week before, but this week I realized what I have even in tragedy.

Amazingly, Myra said to me about her situation, “I know it could have been even worse.”

Telling yourself that “it could have been worse” is a way of shifting your focus from your misery to your gratitude. You are essentially saying that you are grateful for what did not happen. It’s similar to the way optimists view the glass as half full.

I will not minimize the traumatic experiences others have had. We are all allowed to be upset about our own situation. But, for most of us, there are ways of looking at our situation, even gut-wrenching experiences, that help us to cope and recover.

My wishes for peace and happiness go out to everyone impacted by Storm Sandy, as well as everyone going through difficult experiences of any sort.

With all my love,

danas medium

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David Singer

David Singer is the author of "Six Simple Rules for a Better Life" and the co-founder and CEO of Singer Nelson Charlmers. David lectures for companies and other organizations on Six Simple Rules for a Better Life and writes the Six Simple Rules blog.

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