Gratitude, Attitude and a cat

Confession: sometimes I find writing about gratitude really hard. To be even more specific, sometimes I find writing posts for the Ten Things of Thankful blog hop really hard.

With the Thankful hop, the difficulty is often logistical – because it’s the weekend and I’m busy doing weekendy things with my family or with friends. Other times though, the things I feel thankful for just don’t come neatly wrapped up in a bloggable package. Sure, like everyone, I can feel thankful for things – like being able to make my own chocolate, or lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in months, or the cat-print top my husband bought for my birthday recently – but often there’s something in me that resists writing a list of things. Maybe that’s because I grew up with the usual human cognitive dissonance that says we should be grateful for what we’re given but that gathering material possessions just isn’t quite right.

But there’s something else.

When Lizzi and I met last month we talked about karma. I said I don’t believe in karma, and she agreed. She spoke about a post she’d written about deserving and how she doesn’t like being told she “deserves” happiness, because that implies “personal value and goodness somehow becomes dependent on their actions.”

I totally agree with Lizzi on that.

I feel sort of the same with regard to gratitude. It’s frequently recommended that every evening we make a list of the “good things” that come our way during the day. Count our blessings. There is evidence that this is a useful thing to do. Some studies show that gratitude can ease depression, especially in self-critical people.

So gratitude is cool and writing lists is great. But (you knew there was a but didn’t you?) just as with Lizzi’s argument about deserving, there’s something about feeling gratitude for something that implies some things or circumstances are worth feeling gratitude for and others aren’t. I’m not convinced this is true.

This week I read an essay by a woman who is thankful her son has autism. A while ago I wrote about why I am thankful I had a miscarriage. Those aren’t things you’d generally expect to see in a gratitude list. In neither case did we initially feel gratitude. In both cases, we had a range of emotions, and I certainly felt despair and hopelessness. Yet at the same time, I knew I’d rather have had that miscarriage than never been pregnant at all, so gratitude was there all along. It was probably what got me through one of the bleakest times of my life.

One definition of gratitude is the recognition of the unearned increments of value in one’s experience. But maybe the point of gratitude lists isn’t to recognise unearned increments of value, but to become aware of a deep part of our nature that is already within us, that is there all along. My feeling is that gratitude isn’t something we feel or do so much as what we are. It’s our true nature.

I’ve written before about how is actually so woven through our lives we barely notice – and I don’t mean that we feel ungrateful or take life for granted, but that gratitude is a bit like breathing. Mostly we aren’t aware of it, but we couldn’t live without it. (Or at least, in gratitude’s case, we might still be able to live, but we couldn’t thrive without it.)

Take this morning for instance: my husband got up before me and went downstairs. As I lay in bed, one of our cats came into the room and jumped onto the bed. As she purred, I felt waves of joy pass through me. Why?

The answer has to be something beyond the realms of the mind’s rational knowledge. Though I think, perhaps it is partly this: frankl

I never tire of sharing that Viktor Frankl quote. For me, it’s one of the most important statements made in the 20th Century. And, for me, the moments of deepest awareness of gratitude are often when I have a realisation about something, a shift in perspective, a change of attitude. This week I had one of those moments when an old incident from childhood came into my mind and now I see it with very different eyes. I’m working on another post (that I had hoped to finish last week) that will explain more. It came about because of reading posts for this month’s 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion’s Building from Bullying theme. So, I’m thankful for that, for the way one thing leads to another, and like so much of life, it’s almost impossible to untangle what I feel grateful for – it’s just all of it!

Though, in truth, I’d still rather not clean out the cat litter tray.

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Comments

  1. I read the most wonderful sentence in a novel I was living in the last week. I’m not even quite sure where to find it in the novel so I won’t search it out, but it was something along the lines of a terrible experience leading us to end up being grateful for the change it brought. I feel like that sounds simple now, but it struck me at the time because I am definitely still struggling with a terrible experience, and the changes it brought to our family’s life. There’s some good there, but I refuse to be grateful for the terrible experience even though it is certain responsible for the change. This is something I think on a lot.

    I don’t love the lists either. I revert to them some weeks (like this one) because I’m busy or tired or can’t think on how to make it more interesting. But I feel rather bland and mediocre doing it.

    1. Author

      Sarah what you say about being grateful for the change is exactly what I was meaning, yes. I changed so much as a result of my miscarriage – for me it was a very humbling experience, stripped away arrogance.
      I think I know of the experience you mention (the one from your bullying post?) What I’ve found is that if I *try* to make myself feel grateful it doesn’t work, so I’d say you are right not to try to force it. Since you are noticing good, you could maybe allow yourself to feel grateful for that, without in any way condoning what the people did?
      Thanks for your comment, and I do hope you find peace in that situation.

  2. I know what you and Sarah are both saying about experiences that are less than positive. I will never be grateful for my illness …. I no longer despise it or my body for having it…. but I would welcome a life without it. I think there are other ways I could develop the perseverance and qualities illness has ingrained in me…. BUt I do understand what youre saying…especially about never having been pregnant vs what you went through…. it makes total sense. I too (as I suppose everyone does at some time) feel that way about the list… but while I may not get a ton from doing it at times I like to think my presence there is important or maybe I will hit upon something that is important for someone else.

    1. Author

      Ivy, that you no longer despise your illness or your body – I admire you so much! You are going through such a lot and I really, truly do not think anyone should try to force themselves to feel grateful for something. I don’t think it’s possible to force it. I wish you didn’t have to go through the illness either, and yes it would be so much better if you could have developed those qualities some other way. I am sending you positive thoughts,

      Your presence in the TTOT hop is definitely important! Every time I do one I get a lot from it. This time, it was realising that writing lists helps uncover what’s already there.
      And I am certainly grateful for your comment!

  3. I think the way I understand this is through my parents’ final demises. My dad was holed below the water line by his diagnosis of prostrate cancer and was grateful when the treatment extended the estimate of his remaining term from a matter of weeks to a year. We all were yet part of me, while understanding the man and so why it happened as it did, still finds it difficult to reconcile that gratitude with the feeling he should and could have had longer if he had been more mature, more open but essentially less himself in admitting to his symptoms and thus acknowledging his weakness. In contrast my mother remained alert active and fit enough to enjoy herself right up to her birthday on 21st October before everything began to give way and she died the following January. I was grateful she wasn’t to suffer the indignity (as she would have seen it) of drawing her life out and being what she had an absolute horror of becoming – a burden. She never really suffered in a physical sense – and we talk about being grateful when people don’t suffer thus – but psychologically the pain of feeling he was imposing on others would have been terrible to her. A stoic woman – whose last words to me ‘hallo darling’ just before lapsing into her final coma – whose life and death are events, in their own ways, for which I am grateful.

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