Resources for Recovering Resilience: Gratitude for Bad Things That Don’t Happen

Last week I was driving to meet a friend to see a play at Berkeley Repertory Theater when, quite suddenly, I heard a horrible screeching sound, metal on metal. I looked around to see what other car could be experiencing this awful, ominous screeching, but as cars passed me and the noise stayed with me, I realized the screeching came from my own beloved never-any-problems Honda Civic. Uh oh.

I knew of a service station about a mile ahead on University Avenue. As I was driving there very slowly, my mind was racing to create the safety net – I could get the car towed home across the bridge; my neighbors could pick me up; I could call my friend on her cell phone and let her know what was happening; I had her ticket to the play in my purse – I could call the theater and let them know the situation and her seat number. I was playing everything out in my mind, not exactly catastrophizing but trying to rise to the occasion resiliently.

I arrived at the service station (a real service station with a real mechanic) at 10 minutes before closing time; how lucky is that. The mechanic had me drive the car back and forth in the parking lot to assess the noise, put the car up on the jack, removed the left front tire, removed two teeny tiny rocks, smaller than my little fingernail, from the metal casing inside the tire. Done! He put the tire back on and lowered the car to the ground. I test drove the car in the parking lot. No more problem. Five minutes; twenty bucks.

I enjoyed the play with my friend, and I enjoyed everything about having dodged a bullet – the freedom to drive my car, quietly, the no further disruptions to my evening or the rest of the weekend. I was grateful for someone else’s expertise, and kindness about it all. I was grateful this happened in a town where I knew my way around. I was grateful for the weather, for the opportunities of my car simply working and life simply unfolding. I was grateful for being grateful.

Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.”

We can blow things all out of proportion as we’re trying to meet the potential challenges and catastrophes of our lives. We can also take a moment to notice and take in the good when bad things don’t happen. The car cutting in front of us on the freeway that didn’t clip our fender. The cup we knocked off the kitchen counter that bounced but didn’t break. The letter from the IRS that turned out to be a notice about a change in the tax laws rather than an notice of an audit.

Exercise: Practicing Gratitude for the Bad Things That Don’t Happen

  1. Pay attention, as you go throughout your day, to bad things that might have happened, but they didn’t. You tripped on the sidewalk but you didn’t fall. You felt like you were coming down with a cold, but you didn’t. You almost said something sarcastic to your colleague when they flubbed something, but you didn’t.
  2. Notice the goodness that something bad didn’t happen. Notice a sense of relief, of ease. Let a feeling of gratitude arise for that moment of relief.
  3. Savor the gratitude for 10-20-30 seconds. Let the moment become a resource for you as you go through the rest of the day. Yes, resilience is coping well with the difficult, sometimes the truly awful. We can recover resources for resilience by noticing how often things go right, for ourselves and those we care about.
  4. Pass this idea along to a friend; ask them later how the coping in their day shifted as they practiced gratitude for the bad things that didn’t happen.