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When I’m really stressed or anxious, it’s hard to look around and see much to be thankful for. But over time I’ve learned that most gifts in life come in funny packages.

In Colorado this year we had such severe drought that fires cropped up across the state and scorched whole neighborhoods, consuming homes and belongings for thousands of people. During this high wind and dry weather, I prayed for rain everyday, negotiating that if we could get enough rain to put out the fires I wouldn’t complain if it rained the rest of the summer. That’s no small price to miss our short Colorado summers.

Watch out what you ask for.

We had a deluge of rain for nearly a month! Like a monsoon! The drought did end, thank goodness. And, unlike summers when the rain got in the way of outdoor activities, this year I was thankful, no matter how many skipped adventures. And, oddly, the fires made way for regrowth of old forests ravaged by the beatle-kill of the last 20 years. So new trees will be popping up soon to replenish the landscape.

And there are WAY more difficult things for which I am grateful, having learned that all of life’s experiences bring opportunities for learning and growth.

I may mutter under my breath when things seem really hard (my family would suggest that it’s more than muttering), but I have learned compassion and empathy for those whose lives are much harder. And I have paused to notice the trivial things that would ordinarily escape my attention but now seem to bring extraordinary grace and beauty in a chaotic world.

When you become grateful for the small things in your life, you also open up the space between your thoughts to allow the process of “living into the unknown”, as Risa Kaparo, Ph.D. describes it in Awakening Somatic Intelligence, The Art and Practice of Embodied Mindfulness.

Your gratitude for everyday things clears away old thought patterns to make way for your body to be present with every experience, rather than judging things that happen as good or bad.

You’re probably saying “yea, right, you want me to be thankful for that?”

If you’re feeling stretched to identify things to be grateful for, take 10 minutes and look around. You may notice some marvel of nature like a bird, a flower or the stars in the sky. You may notice the helpful people around you. You may be more thankful for the food on your table or a the shade of a big tree on a hot summer day.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Just One Thing and Buddha’s Brain, suggests you “prime the pump” by thinking about someone for whom you are naturally grateful- such as a friend, child, parent, mentor, or pet. Other “gratitude tricks” to help create positive neural pathways in your brain (which in turn help your brain to generate more positive thoughts about your life) could include making a daily gratitude list before bed, or pausing to thank your friends and family for the things they do for you.

The dead brown grass in my backyard turned green again thanks to the rain, and I was thankful for the chance to enjoy time with my family while forced to sit indoors. Not only that, but after one particular five hour drenching rain we were treated to a double rainbow. Life is tough.

What are some things that you have learned to be grateful for in your life that you may not usually think of as valuable? How did you learn to appreciate those aspects of your life? Leave a comment in the Comment Box below so we can learn to be more grateful.