07/21/2014 05:15 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

Appreciating What We Have

It is not difficult to be grateful for all the positive and pleasant experiences and blessings in our lives. This does not mean that experiences which are difficult and negative are without their own purpose and value for us to be equally grateful. This means we must develop a habit of feeling grateful in all circumstances. There is a 'silver lining' to most of the clouds that we encounter in life-some priceless lessons to be learned. We must work at developing this level of faith and resilience. In fact, what appears to be "bad," could very well be "goodness" or an opportunity for gratitude waiting to be discovered.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend, whose beautiful daughter was struggling unsuccessfully to recover from a serious drug addiction problem. The mother shared with me, that as much as she loved her daughter (unconditionally), there were times that her daughter's addiction and the behavior that accompanied the drug abuse would frustrate and enrage her to a point where she could not feel any love or compassion for her self-inflicted misery. What I had suggested to this mother was, "At times when you don't feel loving, look around you, count your other blessings and simply feel grateful for all the blessings you do have."

One morning, after our conversation something the daughter did caused her mother to be simply overwhelmed with frustration and hopelessness. In addition to her drug problem, the daughter also had three young children who were being taken care of by my friend. On this particular morning, the mother closed her eyes to calm her anger, confusion and fear. She said she recalled my words, and said to herself, "When I open my eyes, I want to see something I am genuinely grateful for!" After a few moments she opened her eyes slowly and found herself looking directly at the white refrigerator across the room. A feeling of humor, release, and relief spread throughout her body when she allowed herself to feel grateful for that old refrigerator. The refrigerator was humming away, working diligently with enough food for her to make a nutritious breakfast for the three young grandsons in her care. An ordinary refrigerator broke the spell of rage and ushered in a measure of peace and joy, allowing her to start her day in a loving mode. After breakfast, the two-year-old grandson said, "Thanks, Jammy -- that was tasty!" These sweet and innocent words reflected the very attitude and feeling of gratitude that she had been able to attain only through this intentional and conscious effort. When she told me about this episode, I too felt grateful for my own refrigerator and the food inside it.

Being grateful for what we already have in our lives, allows us to wisely use these blessings in our daily lives. Jessica Cox was born without arms due to a rare birth defect in 1983, in Arizona. Amazingly, she is the world's first licensed, armless pilot, as well as the first armless young woman in the American Taekwondo Association with two black belts! Fitted for prosthetic limbs in her childhood, she tried her best to adapt to them, however she ended up finding them uncomfortably bulky. At the age of 14, she decided, she would learn how to use what she already had -- her legs and feet, thus accepting her physical challenge and working with what she had, rather than trying to gain something that was missing. "Instead of investing so much time in being normal," she stated once, "I realized it was more important to celebrate my difference."

Tossing her prosthetic arms into the back of her closet, Jessica persistently learned how to do just about everything with her feet and toes, what most people do with their hands and fingers. She learned how to drive a car and received her driver's license. In 2008, she even earned her sport pilot's license and flies her own light-sport aircraft. She uses one foot to manage the control panel and the other to deftly guide the steering column. Besides being the first person in the world licensed to fly a plane with her feet, Jessica is an avid swimmer, and enjoys brisk walks to keep fit and flexible. She uses her feet and toes to brush her teeth, apply her cosmetics, take out contact lenses, write, unwrap packages, and almost all other tasks in her daily life. She also completed a college degree in psychology. Additionally, she maintains an active motivational speaking career which focuses on inspiring others to appreciate and use what they already have in their daily lives. By being grateful for what she did have -- her legs and feet -- and developing the skills to use them effectively, Jessica turned what was a huge physical challenge in her life into a life of extraordinary achievements and accomplishments.