Transform Expectations
into No Matter Whats

M.J. Ryan

The most ungrateful person I know is an older woman who can't see the beauty of her life because she is so bitter that it didn't turn out the way she thought it should.  She has a lovely home and garden, healthy, bright, successful children, a fifty-year marriage, and the means and health to travel.  No one in her immediate family has died or been seriously ill, she's never known poverty or lack; she is, from all external measures, highly privileged, with much to be grateful for.  And yet all of what she has is completely invisible to her because somehow it doesn't match the picture of what she expected.  Her kids don't live close enough or visit often enough; she wishes there was even more money; her marriage isn't as loving as she desires.  Her ingratitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the more she complains, the more lonely and isolated she finds herself as friends and family grow weary of her moaning.

To me, this acquaintance is an important teacher in  the practice of gratitude--a vivid example of how expectations can create blinders so that we can't even see the true blessings of our lives.

Expectations are the killers of gratitude and joy:  If you expect to live in the Taj Mahal, your cozy little cottage will feel pretty awful; if you expect your son to become a doctor, you can't appreciate him for the fine bodyworker that he is; if you focus on how you are going to be miserable without a BMW, your trusty, rusty Toyota that reliably gets you around will only bring you misery.

Having hopes, dreams, and visions for the future is one thing; it's important to have goals and schemes pulling us into the future.  But we need to be careful that such envisioning doesn't get in the way of appreciating the things we have in the here and now.  Let's not miss the beauty of our actual lives while we're lusting after a mythical perfect life.

If we expect someone or something outside ourselves to make us happy, we lose our power.  The truth is we can't count on anything except our ability to choose how to respond to what happens to us.  One way to counteract the tendency to look outside ourselves for happiness is to practice No Matter What.  Before you go into a situation, ask yourself, "What is it that I can learn, accomplish, or experience here, no matter what happens?"  Let's say you have to give a speech and are nervous about how it will be received.  Your No Matter What might be, "No matter what, I want to experience a sense of peace while talking.  As I look out into the audience, I'll remember to breathe and notice that at my core there is peace."  Afterwards, no matter what else happened--that people appeared bored, or no one came up to thank you--you can still appreciate yourself for having kept your commitment to experience peacefulness.

When we practice No Matter What, we are no longer hooked by expectations to externals--other people, other events--but are free to choose what we will focus on to make us happy.

Gratitude creates a powerful state of happiness because it returns us to the natural place where we notice what's right instead of what's wrong. In Attitudes of Gratitude, M. J. Ryan teaches us how to unlock the fullness of life through the expression and exercise of a grateful heart. In a series of brief, evocative essays, she inspires us to discover and distill a sense of gratitude in every aspect of our lives and offers practical suggestions to help us focus on all that we have, rather than our perception of what may be lacking.

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When awareness of everything you have dawns in you,
how do you feel?  Don't you have an extraordinary abundance
to be thankful for?  Gratitude is being thankful, grateful for
what you have.  With gratitude firmly rooted in your heart,
you are humble and open and receptive and inducing your Benefactor
to shower you with more gifts, physical and spiritual.  And it's more
than gifts!  A grateful heart is a grace-full heart.  A grace-full heart
is one that is open, alive, and growing toward communion with its Benefactor.
   Do you realize that you have been given exactly what you need
just so that you may proceed with the spiritual lessons and growth
that you, you alone, need to master?  Yes, life can be absolutely daunting,
but you can have gratitude when you realize that you have just what you need.
Gratitude is the virtue that shifts our energy in order to facilitate our great
growth to the next levels.  Without the hankering after what we don't have,
we allow ourselves to receive from God just what we need.  Then we have
and use just what we need to, so that we're prepared for greater gifts
and gains inside.

Michael Goddart



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If your gratitude depends on what life gives you or what other people
do for you or to you, you will be disappointed more often than you are grateful.
But you can learn to feel grateful by rethinking your attitude towards life.
First, remember that contentment lies in giving.  If you know that giving
is better than receiving, then you can feel grateful for what you are able
to give others.  This does not mean you ignore your own needs.  You will
decide what to give and how to give it, and then at the end of the day
you will be grateful for having had the chance to give in your own way.
Remember, we all have something to give, and our ability to give is
not related to our finances or physical strength.

Bernie Siegel


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