In our surveys to discover the eight traits or cows necessary to sustain a modern relationship we discovered the Holy Cow or Spiritual Cow was high on most people’s list. However, they had varying opinions on how that cow manifests itself. One consistent view though, was that a sense of the spiritual included a strong feeling of gratitude.

I am a normal person. On stressful days when I feel that nothing is going right, I find it difficult to feel grateful. It’s not that I don’t recognize how good I have it, it’s just that sometimes I can get too busy to notice. Gratitude is a tricky thing. Most of us find it easy to be grateful for the obviously good things in our life but it can be difficult to be thankful for the trials and thorns.

I know a person who came home to a tearful wife. He lovingly put his arms around her and asked her what was the matter. “I prayed to have more patience today and everything that could go wrong, went wrong,” she complained. My friend smiled but wisely didn’t laugh and said, “Well, honey. I believe you got exactly what you prayed for.”

Many times in life, the things we want come after hardships and pain. True gratitude is recognition that the journey, as hard as it may be, and the destination are both blessings. Despite the fact that Friedrich Nietzsche spent his career debating the existence of anything spiritual, his quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” makes an excellent point on learning to be grateful for all of life’s experiences.

I know they say that without the bitter, we can’t know the sweet. However, I really don’t feel the need to break my legs to be grateful to walk—but sometimes we actually can be grateful for a broken leg. A friend of mine told me the following story.

“My mother was just beginning to celebrate her new life as an empty nester. On an icy New England morning, she stepped out of her car, slipped, and snapped her ankle nearly in half. She was neither happy nor grateful, not then, nor during the six months of painful rehabilitation. A year after the accident my six-year-old daughter suffered the exact same critical injury. As my mother cuddled and comforted her granddaughter throughout her recovery, she commented how grateful she was to have had her injury the year before. My mother knew my daughter’s pain and helped her during her rehabilitation in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.”

I have a friend who is able to see that “it is all good.” He states, “My glass is neither half-full or half-empty. It is overflowing, and somehow I keep getting a bigger glass.” In a relationship, this sense of optimistic gratitude is very empowering. It keeps everything in perspective and assures that neither partner will be taken for granted.

Understanding and being grateful for all of the vicissitudes of life can be challenging. However, I believe when we are only grateful for the seemingly good things in life, we will probably just see a half glass. Those who choose to be grateful for everything that comes their way truly have a cup that overflows.

Tracy Lyn Cutler