How can we face the mess we’re in without going crazy?

This the the question that Joanna Macy and Christopher Johnstone ask in their brilliant book Active Hope.

Surprisingly, the first stage of their four stage answer is gratitude. They point out how gratitude is a vital practice, that makes us more resilient, enabling us to face the darker side of life (“honouring the pain of the world” as they put it) without going under.

In a similar way, the Benedictine monk David Stendal-Rast argues in his Ted-X talk “Want to be happy? Be grateful.” that living gratefully is the key to a happy life. While he acknowledges that there are lots of things in life that we cannot be grateful for, he says that gratitude is an attitude that we can carry into all situations, so that “we can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every given moment.”

Gratitude is a simple practice but a practice that takes work, a discipline like any other that we need to train at, a muscle that we can exercise and strengthen.

In his book 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman highlights how research shows that just taking a few moments to write 5 things down each day that we are thankful for can really make us significantly happier, much more optimistic about the future, and physically healthier.

“To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe — to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it — is a wonder beyond words.” (Joanna Macy)

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