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?
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.