Practicing Our Way to Gratitude
Some of us spend this month practicing 30 Days of Gratitude. People post their thankfulness on various social media each day, describing how grateful they are for the good things which fill their lives.
I appreciate their practice. There are days when something they share inspires me to see my own experience in new ways.
Gratitude is often a challenge for me. My first inclination is to find a problem to solve or avoid, not blessings for which to be grateful. I enjoy a good worst case scenario. My tendency is to spend more time wanting to fix broken things than being thankful for things which are good.
Part of our inclination toward looking for potential difficulties is because dealing with them makes us feel useful. We enjoy the sense we are making a difference, making things better. When we are solving a problem we are powerful. We like to believe we can overcome the challenges we face. Finding and solving problems reinforces our sense we are capable.
Being grateful does not reinforce our view of ourselves as powerful in the face of obstacles.
The things for which I am most grateful are not things I have earned. The people who spark my thankfulness are those who treat me well even when I do not believe I deserve it.
Practicing gratitude is not important because our lives are filled with blissful joy and we are surrounded by friends.
We need to practice our way to gratitude because life is full of things which challenge us and make us uncomfortable.
Gratefulness is a celebration of life, especially the parts which do not appear particularly enjoyable.
What is gratitude really all about? Are there people and things for which we are truly grateful?
How would we put together our 30 Days of Gratitude?
Challenges to Our Gratitude
Each of us faces our own obstacles which get in the way of our being grateful.
I know quite a few people who tend to be perfectionists. The problem is not wanting to do things well or working to do their best. Their challenge is needing to be perfect.
My own reflection on needing to be perfect and wanting to be more grateful has led me to some discoveries.
In many ways trying to be perfect is the opposite of being grateful. When I am convinced I need to be perfect I believe I can do things on my own. If I really am perfect for this job, do I need anyone else to help me?
For me, gratitude grows from seeds planted in understanding I need other people. The people to whom I am most grateful are those who help bring out the best in me. We work together to make a difference, to help make the world a better place.
Together we are able to do things we cannot each do on our own.
Others of us experience discouragement and disappointment as challenges to our gratitude. We have been working hard for longer than we would like to admit and we are tired. Some of us expected we would already have met our goals or accomplished our results. Fatigue makes it hard for us to be grateful.
Practicing our way to gratitude might include building a more contemplative understanding of our work.
We can address other challenges in other ways. Each of us is building our own practice toward gratitude.
Steps on Our Way to Gratitude
I believe the first, most significant step on our way to gratitude is appreciating where we are going.
It is easy for us to misunderstand what we mean by gratitude. Many of us think it is a warm feeling inside.
Some of us treat gratitude like our annual flu shot. We inoculate ourselves for a few minutes one day, or one month, each year which takes care of it. Many of us try to squeeze our thanksgiving in between watching football and eating an enormous meal.
Practicing our way to gratitude takes more than a minute or two on one day a year.
Being grateful is not merely feeling good about ourselves and the lives we lead. It is more than being relieved we do not live lives of hardship like other people.
I know people who are particularly grateful for difficulties and painful experiences in their lives. Challenges and losses have taught them some of the most helpful lessons they have ever learned.
Our way to gratitude is about discovering the path we will follow. Each step is a reflection of our entire path.
We practice our way to gratitude, exploring and discovering its power and depth.
Gratitude opens before us as we take the next step.
We grow in gratitude as we share it with other people.
It is good to remind people we know, people we love, we are grateful to them and for them. There is more to our practice, though, than being nice and polite to people we know.
The more I explore my own gratefulness the more ways I discover to put it into practice. It is more saying an obligatory “thank you.”
For me, practicing gratitude boils down to treating other people like human beings.
We live in a world where it is easy to lose sight of the fact other people are like us. Our lives are full of good and bad days, insights and emotions, celebrations and challenges.
Like spiritual life which fills and surrounds us, we share our energy with the rest of the world. When we are grateful our thanks resonates with everyone around us.
Practicing our way to gratitude lights the spark of gratefulness in the people around us.
When will we take time to practice our way to gratitude today?
How will we find new ways to put gratitude into practice this week?
[Image by gisele13]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.