This is the fifth of 10 posts I’m writing about how to combine gratitude and compassion for a happier life. The inspiration for this series comes from the following research finding:
“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.” – Dr Amit Sood, from the Mayo Clinic
Cool, huh? This insight has really got me fired up!
How can we implement this in practice to turbo-power our happiness?
I’ve come up with a simple 4-part framework for combining gratitude and compassion, and I’m sharing how to do that using 10 different examples in 10 posts. In each post I focus on a different area of gratitude as a jumping off point.
This week my gratitude reference point is Love.
I’m grateful for all the different kinds of love I’ve been able to experience so far in my life… and I look forward to new and unexplored love ‘territory’ in the future.
Here are 3 kinds of LOVE I’m especially grateful for:
Some of us have been hurt in love. Whether it’s romantic love, in friendship, or with family… I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt the sting of betrayal at one time or another. I know I have.
Usually it’s about some expectation of ours not being met. Sometimes it can be because someone disappoints us with their actions. Sometimes it can be because our feelings (or expectations) are not reciprocated. Or there’s not enough respect, or equality in the relationship. Or because their actions don’t match the promises we think were made.
All that can feel really painful.
It can be hard to open up again once you’ve felt stung. Especially if the sting was very deep.
We’re wired to learn from bad experiences – we learn to avoid them. Like touching a hot stove. We’ve all done it once. Maybe twice. But we soon learned that it’s something best avoided.
What happens when we start to avoid love, though?
I mean, avoiding a physical burn is a pretty straight forward choice. There’s not much downside to it. We’re not missing out on something precious by not touching that hot stove. But closing down our hearts so that we can avoid getting emotionally hurt… well that’s a trickier choice. Because love is part of what makes life worth living. It may even be THE thing that makes life worth living! (Besides chocolate, of course).
Contemplating this, I feel huge compassion for people who’ve been deeply hurt and then struggle to open up to love again. I’ve struggled with it myself at times. I know I sabotaged many of my early relationships because I was afraid to let anyone get too close.
For me, I had to learn to forgive my past hurts. Not even because I always thought the person who hurt me deserved my forgiveness… but because until I forgave, I couldn’t open my heart up to love again.
And without love, well, life feels kind of… lifeless.
So I did a lot of work on forgiving (and I’m sure I’m not done yet). I didn’t forget though. I don’t think that’s smart. Instead of “forgive, forget and move on” I use the mantra “forgive, learn the lesson, and move on.” Stay open, but move forward with wisdom.
Life has so much to teach me. AND avoiding love is not something I want to learn. I prefer to think of my broken heart as one that’s broken open.
This is based on a Buddhist practice called Metta. It involves imagining sending ‘loving kindness’. What’s that? I imagine it to be like the feeling you get from a loving, nurturing hug.
Firstly, for all the times in my life that I’ve sabotaged connection or avoided love, I send loving kindness to myself. And, for all the times that I felt the love I did extend was not returned, I send loving kindness to myself.
(The practice of compassion always begins with the self. If we can’t practice self-compassion then it’s going to be very hard for us to have compassion for others.)
Secondly, for all the people I love, respect, and admire… I send them loving kindness for all the times they feel afraid of letting someone deep into their heart. They may be struggling in this way without me knowing it. I send them loving kindness.
Thirdly, for all the people I don’t even know who may be struggling in this way… I send loving kindness. For all the people I do know but don’t have much of a relationship with, who may also be struggling with this… I send loving kindness.
Fourthly, for all the people I know who actually irritate me, or people that I’m currently having issues with who may also be having trouble opening up to love… I send them loving kindness.
What can I do this week to put it into action? How can I express my gratitude for having healed past hurts so I can open up to love again, while at the same time practice compassion for myself and others who sometimes struggle with this?
This week, I will be on the look-out for ways in which I can promote more forgiveness in myself and others. I know that forgiveness is the quickest route to being able to re-open the heart to love after experiencing hurt.
One of the best ways I’ve found to help me forgive, is to really try and put myself in the other person’s shoes through empathy and compassion. I ask: what was going on for them that made them act that way? Were they scared? Were they acting out of past hurt themselves? Is it possible that they didn’t know any better? Did they lack some emotional maturity? Or maybe they were just trying to protect themselves somehow?
Then, switching back into gratitude, I contemplate how much I learned from that situation and how well that’s going to serve me in the future. And I don’t mean by learning avoidance tactics! No. What did I learn that’s enhanced my wisdom and enriched my ability to love well? What positive teaching was there for me in that situation that I now get to carry forward in a useful and appropriate way?
Finally, I ask for some help from my higher power. This part is pretty simple – I just ask for the wound to be cleansed but for the lesson to be kept. So it is. Amen. (Even if you think it can’t be that simple, just try it!)
What can you do to combine gratitude and compassion this week?
Let me know in the comments if this post has helped you!
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns