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Finding Freedom: The Remarkable Story of Anthony Ray Hinton

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The other day I was reading about Anthony Ray Hinton. He spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. He was working in a locked factory at the time of the crime he was being accused of. The police told him he would be going to jail because he was black.

His time in jail was spent in solitary confinement in a five-by-seven-foot cell, allowed out only one hour a day. But, Hinton quickly became a friend and counselor to other inmates and the death row guards, many of whom begged Hinton’s attorney to get him out.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling ordered his release, and he was able to walk free. In an interview he is quoted saying: “One does not know the value of freedom until it is taken away, People run out of the rain. I run into the rain…I am so grateful for every drop. Just to feel it on my face.”

Hinton was later interviewed on 60 Minutes. The interviewer asked if he was angry at the people who put him in jail. He said he forgave them all.

The interviewer asked, “but they took 30 years of your life — how can you not be angry?”

Hinton responded: “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my life.”

How much of your life have you spent angry or unforgiving for far less suffering, or for circumstances out of anyone’s control? Unfortunately, many spend part of their life angry or unforgiving of themselves. Hinton is a strong example of the ability to respond with joy and gratitude despite horrendous circumstances.

He’s quoted in another interview: “The world didn’t give you your joy, and the world can’t take it away. You can let people come into your life and destroy it, but I refuse to let anyone take my joy. I wake up in the morning and I don’t need anyone to make me laugh. I’m going to laugh on my own, because I have been blessed to see another day, and when you’re blessed to see another day that should automatically give you joy.”

There is something to be grateful for every day. As Hinton says, simply seeing another day is something to be grateful for.

Sometimes the hardest part is building the awareness. If we’re not careful, we go through each day and each week as machines, repeating the same behaviors and tasks. We rarely stop and bring awareness to each moment, each day, and the things that we should be grateful for.

What if we set a reminder each day this week to bring more awareness to building our gratitude muscle? Set a reminder on your phone. Find a wallpaper image for your phone. Or, my favorite, pick a doorway in your home and hang a sign that says — “Be Grateful.” Touch it every time you walk through the door.

We spend too much time living in the past and dwelling on things that went wrong. This poisons our actions in the moment and slows our momentum for the future. Gratitude does not make us complacent. It allows us to experience more hope and more abundance in life.

We attract more good into our life when we focus on the good that surrounds us now. I challenge you to find gratitude every day and then notice how your energy and the energy of people around you shifts.

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