Some time ago, I was asked by a friend to participate in a Gratitude Challenge. As part of this challenge, I was asked to share a personal experience where gratitude had an impact on me and to share how I practice gratitude in my life.
It may sound strange to you but I’m grateful for paper cuts.
Actually, I’m grateful for one particular paper cut…
It was in the spring of 2007, and I was traveling with my parents through New England. As a family, we had recently closed a very dark and wintry chapter in our lives and were eager to move forward. The surrounding countryside, positively satiated in springtime flowers, painted the promise of a new beginning.
While visiting a religious building, I fumbled with some informational brochures and accidentally gave myself a paper cut. The sting prompted a word that was—ah—shall we say…inappropriate for the location? (It was a swear word.)
As I covered my finger with a tissue, I was suddenly (and inexplicably) overwhelmed with gratitude—gratitude to be alive.
Six months earlier, I had tried to take my life. In fact, I would have succeeded had my dad not found me and taken me to the hospital. In the weeks leading up to my attempt, I remember one constant feeling: numbness. My entire world had been drained of color and energy. I felt so hollow, so void, and so dead that taking my life seemed like the only escape.
But in the months and years that have followed my suicide attempt, my family and friends rallied around me, offering me support, encouragement, and love. On one of those tedious nights immediately following my discharge from the hospital, I distinctly remember laying in my bed and being impressed with these words: “Seth, there are a lot of things in your life that have gone wrong. Yes, you’re in pain. And yes, you have a lot of problems. But there are also a lot of good things in your life—like family, friends, a warm bed, good food, and air to breath. You’ve spent the past couple of years focusing on all the bad things in your life—and look what it’s done to you. Maybe, instead of focusing so much on all of the bad things in your life, you could try to focus on some of the good things—because there are many.”
Since that time, I have tried, to the best of my ability, to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Yes, I still struggle with chronic depression—I don’t deny that. Yes, things go wrong and I still have bad days. But instead of focusing on what I lack, I focus on what I have. And that shift in focus has made all of the difference in the world. In a curious way, gratitude for life has actually expanded it. Every additional moment of my life, when coupled with gratitude, has only increased the joy and color of my life.
So as I stood there, clutching a throbbing paper cut, I was overcome with gratitude for that pain—because it meant that I was still alive. And later that day, while sitting on a couch with my parents, I reached across and put my hand on my dad’s arm.
“Dad,” I began. “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.”
My dad gave me a somber look. “I’m grateful I did,” he said.
In our darkest moments, it’s hard to even think about gratitude. Sometimes, the difficulties of life have a tendency to pull us inward and downward. But I ask you to try and shift your focus outward and upward. Consider your blessings—they are many. Take it from a guy who once hated his life so much that he nearly ended it: life is a beautiful and precious gift.
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