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Crow Wing Energized Column: Developing an 'attitude of gratitude'

Edward Schulze

My wife, Suzanne Irene, is my inspiration for practicing three good things in order to develop an "Attitude of Gratitude." This is her story.

When we met back in the early 90s, we were both going through some very rough times. But one of the things that brought us together was our general positive outlook in spite of our troubles. After four years we were married, and thus began an incredible journey of happiness together. I noticed that she would often jot down little inspirational quotes and sayings, as well as writing her own. And wherever she worked or lived, she would post such quotes in various places where she would see them.

One of the truths we shared was that while we really couldn't control a lot of things in life, we knew we were in control of our attitudes, and worked to stay positive regardless of the situation. One of our favorite sayings is "I can guarantee a good outcome, I just can't guarantee what it will be or when I will have it."

She retired in September of 2011 and moved to be with me in our dream home in the Pillsbury Forest. Our jobs had kept us apart for the previous four years, and now it was time to be together again. However, in January of 2012 she was diagnosed with a rare and brutal cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer. It grows very fast, spreads wildly, and is nearly always fatal. She fought it with incredible courage and grace for 10 months, but lost the battle in November of that year.

During that time she kept a gratitude journal which she wrote in at the end of almost every day, and she was also upbeat in the posts on her CaringBridge site. Near the end, when the cancer had attacked her brain, she was almost totally incapacitated, and could not speak nor write. But she could hear, and she knew what was happening to her. Her last communication to me was a question, her final question. She scribbled as best she could, trying so hard to make it clear to me. Finally, after many frustrating minutes for both of us, I deciphered it, and almost fell out of my chair in shock.

She asked "How do we help others to be as happy as I am?"

Now tell me, how does someone in the last days of life, someone totally incapacitated by such a brutal cancer, have that kind of attitude? I now know ... it was because she focused on, and was grateful for, all the good things and people in her life.

I don't know if I have ever known anyone who was as happy, as joyful, as giving as she was, and I am so incredibly grateful to have been blessed with her presence in my life for 20 years! But losing her was a huge blow to my happiness, and I wanted some of it back.

So earlier this year I decided to see if practicing gratitude would help me as much as it seemed to help her. I started reading the "technical" and "scientific" literature, and it became clear in the findings that practicing gratitude has a significant positive effect on a person's outlook and ability to deal with adverse events.

It also turns out that what you focus on during the last two hours of your day has the greatest effect on the following day, and that writing three good things for four weeks seemed to be what it took to become a habit. I've been doing it for about four months now, and I can definitely say it has improved my life in many ways. Less stress, more patience, more energy, better sleep, improved relationships, and more that I cannot think of right now.

So now it is time for bed, and time for me to focus on the three good things of today. I am grateful for great summer weather, the smell of petunias in the garden, and a ceiling fan to keep me cool tonight.

It's easy ... give it a try. To get you started, visit the Crow Wing County booth at the fair this week. At the booth will be a large gratitude tree where you can post a "good" thing leaf and be entered into a daily drawing for a Fitbit donated by Mills. Crow Wing Energized is also providing a 3 Good Things notepad and pen to keep by your bed to start the practice of recording your three good things each day.

Edward Schulze is a Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Goal Group member.

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