Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts on Gratitude

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about gratitude.  And it’s not just because of the holiday coming up next week.  (Though I admit it’s quite a coincidence.)  It’s because it’s the answer to all of my problems.

Let me back it up for a second.

I’ve always been prone to depression.  Upon reaching adulthood and looking back at the landscape of my youth I tried to convince myself than any feelings I’d had were the result of teen angst, the typical existential crisis that seems to be a textbook-described growing pain and family problems that I had no control over.  But as I grew I couldn’t shake the feelings- they would come back from time to time and leave me feeling a little lost.

And as much as my self esteem, general level of comfort with my life and overall participation in activities that make me feel alive have increased I am still sometimes plagued by discontent.

Forgive me for getting dogmatic on you, but I realize that this is due to the condition of wanting the Buddhists spoke so much of.  For example:

“I want a better paying job.  I want a bigger/nicer house.  I want a fantasy vacation to some exotic place I’ve never been to.  I want to be able to look like ‘insert name of awesome martial artist I train with here’ when I do a form (kata).  I want to publish a novel and have my own book tour around the blogosphere.”  And so on, and so on.

At any given time I can easily come up with a list of things that I want.  And they are definitely wants- you can’t have wants if all your basic needs are taken care of.  People who are starving to death don’t tend to complain about wanting things- they’re too busy starving.  So it goes without saying that I am already terribly, terribly lucky.

But the wants- they’re always there, lurking under the surface.  They come up when I compare myself to others.  The person showing off great pictures of the vacation they just took.  The co-worker who just excitedly gave their two weeks notice because they’re heading off to a higher paying job.  The blogging friend who just announced that their book is being published.  When I look at others and wonder why I don’t have the same things, I want.  And the more I compare, the more I want. 

Here’s the problem: The condition of wanting is never satisfied.  If you get what you want, what you’ve been fantasizing about, you just want more.  If I got the awesome vacation, I’d want to start planning the next one.  If I got the better paying job I’d be wanting to advance in the company.  You get the idea.

So if I spend my time wanting, I am just making it easier, more likely, for me to want.  (And hopefully it goes without saying that wanting is a really great way to feel miserably discontent with your life as is.)

So how can I fight this poisonous condition of wanting?  With gratitude, of course.

Gratitude implies acceptance of life as is.  It implies that you are content with the way things are.  You’re not comparing yourself to others and saying how unfair it is that you don’t have what they do.  You’re not going over the details of your life and saying “It should be better”.  You’re accepting- things are what they are.

But gratitude is a step way beyond acceptance.  It’s an acknowledgement that not only is your life exactly the way it’s supposed to be, it’s pretty damned good at that.  It’s a feeling that you’re occupying the exact spot you should be occupying in the universe.  That things are going the way they should.  That life, in spite of whatever headaches you may be dealing with at the moment, is good.

People who express gratitude tend to be a lot happier.  They tend to be humble.  They tend to go out of their way to help others.  There’s a reason that food drives and blanket drives and volunteer opportunities run rampant around this holiday.  It’s designed to remind us of how damned much we have to be grateful for.  And when we realize that, we think about how many other people don’t have what we enjoy.  The warm house, the great food, the love of family and friends.  We look around at those without and realize: wow, I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Gratitude.  It’s alters your perspective so drastically that you can’t help but feel like any problem or issue you’re facing is so incredibly inconsequential it’s not worth thinking about.  And even when you do face serious problems, it reminds you of how much you still have to be grateful for. 

It is the answer to all of my problems, because it makes me realize that I don’t really have any.

This is not a new realization for me.  And I doubt it is for most of you.  But boy, if I don’t need a reminder from time to time.  Because my brain constantly judges and find faults with things.  It’s programmed to.  And if I don’t consistently fight back by paying conscious attention to the things I have to be grateful for I can easily fall back into that trap.

So how can I invite gratitude into my thoughts?  I can spend some time with those less fortune.  Not just now, but year round.  I can stop complaining.  Easier said than done, I know- but boy if you want to make a bad mood worse, just spend some time complaining.  But the simplest and most effective thing I can do?  Just talk about it.

Giving thanks to the people in your life who make your life great- each and every time you talk to them.  Telling those who you love that you do love them, and that you are very aware of how incredibly lucky you are to have them in your life.  Making a list of everything you have going for you in your life (Celebrate the Small Things, anyone?)

Whenever I do these, I invite myself to be happy.  I invite myself to be content.  I invite myself to be at peace- in a deep, soul-ful way- with everything in my life.  And boy, does that feel a thousand times better than wanting.

So thank you, dear readers, for following this line of thought.  And for being a part of my writing adventures.  And for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the things you are grateful for.  It makes life better.


  1. Now that is a much healthier attitude! We take so many things for granted as well and need to stop and feel truly grateful for what we have. As it says in the Bible, "in all things give thanks."
    Now, be happy!

  2. Gratitude so instantly takes me in the moment, reminding me to be thankful for oh-so-much. It slows down the mind and ego from its "want" mode and replaces those desires with peace. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Oh, dear. Here you are, being all high-minded and whatnot, and I'm talking about my deadly sins on my blog (and inviting you, Beverly, to do the same). Click on the link to see what I mean. Some Dark Romantic
    (And no biggie if you're not up for it.) :-)

  4. This is a wonderful post. I am grateful for so many things. I've gotten in the habit of reminding myself about these things every night and they are the basics, family, friends, health, etc. :)

  5. Oh, and I should add, they are the basics, but they are the most important things. :)

  6. This is a beautiful post--thanks for sharing! :)

  7. We talked about this not that long ago--it's a subject near and dear to my heart! I love the way you have described gratitude vs. wanting here. Reminds me that I have everything that I could ever want, in this moment!

  8. I've been making a short gratitude list in my journal almost every night since August. It's really helped a lot. Even little things like eggs might go on the list one day. I started doing this because I do have problems, things that can't go away overnight, so to keep me from dwelling on them, I've been trying to focus on what I do have and what I am grateful for. Since this improves my mood, this also gives me more energy to tackle the things I do have control over. This is a great reminder for me. I haven't made a list in two days. I'm making one as I type. ^_^

    1. The gratitude list may be the single most effective tool in reminding ourselves of how lucky we are. I've made it a point to make them for myself in my own journal lately. Great minds think alike ^_^

  9. So true. I'm constantly looking for new things to accomplish/experience as well, while it's often the smaller things that really matter. Have a lovely week.

  10. Love this post. Reflecting and remembering what we have is so much healthier, and needed in life. There are times, though, that I've had private pity parties. I think it helps me, in an odd sort of way, too. Does that make sense? Yeah, I'm weird.

  11. An excellent reminder! Most of the time, I make a point to stop throughout the day and give thanks for whatever I'm thankful for in the moment, anything from a good hot cup of coffee to the fact the writing went well that morning. On the days when I forget to do that, I find that I tend to be crankier.

    But even during the times when we're low and not so good things are happening, if we can find at least one thing to be grateful for, to acknowledge it even we're not quite feeling it, it will change our perspective. It might only be a slight shift, but it will be a start. :)

  12. Yep, yep and yep! I also practice the Wollman Test of Reality. It's paradigm altering and powerful.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Wow! What a powerful story! I could use a bloodhound-faced man in my mind reminding me of the difference- they're all inconviencenes!

  13. You're so right about the wanting and comparing yourself to others. I do that way too often! I'm getting better at being grateful for what I have but sometimes I still fall into those old traps. Very inspiring post, Bev!

  14. It's so true. If you're too busy counting your blessings, you never have a chance to think about what you're lacking. =)

  15. If you have a plate of food on your table, a bed to sleep in at night and a roof over your head, then by global standards, you are wealthy. Anything extra is a luxury...
    Thanks for sharing Bev.

  16. You make gratitude sound almost like desire turned around. Not the fascination with getting more, but fascination with where what we have comes from. And I like that. I could always be more grateful to the fine folks in my life.

    Thanks for being my buddy, by the way.

    1. You be more grateful? I think that would be difficult given that you are a wellspring of gratitude already! Seriously, I don't know anyone else who takes less for for granted than you do.
      Thank YOU for being MY buddy!!


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