Gratitude isn’t always as straight forward as you would think
I’ve discovered something interesting about gratitude: you really have to find new things to be grateful for so that you do not get so habitual in what you recite to yourself that it ceases to have real meaning. For instance, I am always grateful for my family, but sometimes I truly need to be more explicit about what exactly it is that I appreciate about someone in it. I was privileged to visit with my parents over this past month, and I have been reminded again what amazing people they are.
Especially my mother. How many 81-year-old women do you know who read things like the integral theories of Ken Wilber, A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss, and write haiku when they are sitting in traffic frustrated by a red light that is delaying them? Not many, I’ll wager. Here’s one she wrote that resonates for me living in South Carolina:
Framed in white railings
Sea, clouds, lighthouse, coast—
How did I get to be so lucky to be born into her circle? I don’t know, but I do know I need to appreciate it! Oh, we’ve had our issues, don’t get me wrong. Both my parents have high standards for their children and expected excellent grades and good behavior as I grew up, and the teenage years of asserting independence were sometimes quite painful for all concerned. Then, in my twenties and thirties raising a young family and working, overwhelmed by daily tasks, I felt I had little time for them. Now my own children are grown, I am taking another look at these unique people, and find myself giving profound thanks.
I only wish to suggest that in this month, when we make an overt practice of giving thanks for all we have, we take a closer look at those we may have taken for granted and see how unique they are, and how they have contributed to our lives. You may not feel that your relationship with your parents is one to celebrate, but consider: you may have learned exactly what you did not want to do by watching some particular dysfunction. You can be truly grateful for that.
Contentment with my lot has been difficult for me to attain. It’s all too easy to wallow in self-pity. I hope my mother’s poem will remind me when I feel lost or bereft that much remains to be appreciated. In the meantime, I seek to breathe deeply and absorb the beauty all around me, reminding myself to give thanks for the sea, the clouds, the lighthouse and the coast that buoy me up time and again, as well as giving thanks for a mother that helps me give voice to this.
If you need some more pragmatic reasons for expanding gratitude in this season of reaping what has been sown, consider these benefits:
- Gratitude can keep fear at bay by reminding you that there are good things as well as bad ones in your life, providing a broader perspective.
- Reminding ourselves of the good can keep us from being mired in always wanting something more than what we already have.
- That in turn reduces stress, improves our health and strengthens our relationships with each other. It literally eases our minds.
In expanding your own understanding of gratitude, consider moving beyond rote recitations of thanks by celebrating the unique idiosyncrasies that make the people in your life so weird and so wonderful. Family, friends, acquaintances, alive or dead, they are your companions along the way. I think I will have to keep working on this, but remembering the unique stories and idiosyncrasies is another way to keep smiling, too.