November 7, 2013

Sharing Gratitude

I'm grateful for this guy. For all of them.
You might have noticed a lot of posts about gratitude rolling around the internet.

It's a thing- this popularized notion of expressing gratitude every day for the month that includes Thanksgiving. And, in theory, I'm for it.

In practice however, there are problems. Namely, they are usually a distraction from actually experiencing gratitude.

Gratitude is very much like faith, it is personal. And even more importantly, it is humbling. What makes you grateful for something is an expression of your character, and it can rarely be condensed into something short and pithy. Especially when what is causing your gratitude actually makes you experience gratitude.

I'm grateful my baby finally started walking.
These posts... they come from the idea that it is healthy to experience gratitude daily. And the fact is, it is more than healthy to experience gratitude. It is healing. Gratitude is a balm to the soul. But listing gratitude and experiencing it are not the same.

And the biggest part of this is the idea that you need a variety of things to be grateful for.

"Today I am grateful for children who love me."
"Today I am grateful for food and water."
"Today I am grateful for God."

Nice sentiments, sure. But meaningless. The only thing that gives gratitude meaning is context.

I experience gratitude daily, and most days I don't share it. Most days I ignore it. Because gratitude becomes emotionally exhausting to revel in.

To roll around in your bed of humility and experience every drop that your life has to offer is to shake yourself to your foundations and abandon your mundane responsibilities, to give in to a feeling of something more important than yourself.

"Today I am grateful. My husband is alive and well, more than six years after learning he was supposed to die within two years. I get to sleep next to him every night, ignore him when he tries to wake me up in the morning, complain when he works late, badger him to take out the trash. I am grateful to have him with me in my life, not just because he might have been dead but because he brings more joy to my existence than I ever believed was possible. Even if he weren't a medical miracle, I would be grateful for him because I know how dark my own thoughts can be left to their own devices, and he saves me from them. I am grateful that he and I found each other and he loves me and married me and never puts his damn t-shirts in the hamper. Because having mundane problems keeps me from dwelling on how unfathomably lucky I am, and how constantly grateful I am for that."

I am so grateful to have these people in my life. I never
considered what a relationship with my in-laws could mean
to me, and I never have dreamed of having such kind,
thoughtful people offer their hearts to me.
You can't function when you are taking the time to truly experience your gratitude. To meditate on it. To embrace it.

"Today I am grateful that I survived the labor and delivery with my third child, after spending nearly five hours experiencing the onset of a uterine rupture. I am grateful to have survived and to be here with my children, with little more wear and tear than some PTSD and a new fear of anesthesia, or the lack thereof. I am grateful that I am alive."

I can sit and meditate on this thought, and yes, I do, but I certainly can't take care of the kids the same time. Gratitude requires attention.

"Today I am grateful that we have enough food to eat, that we don't have to make family trips to the WIC warehouse for formula and eggs and milk and rice. I am grateful that I have a full pantry and a full refrigerator. I am grateful that I'm not concocting recipes in a variation of dried beans and canned vegetables because it's the only food I can afford, or the only food WIC has to offer. I am grateful for parents and in-laws that bought us kitchens full of groceries whenever they came to town during M's unemployment, I am grateful for friends who took us out to eat and watched our children so we could feel like a regular pair of new parents, and take our thoughts off of the daily mundane worries of providing for two brand new mouths to feed."

Experiencing gratitude isn't about picking another thing that makes you happy today. It's about a transcendental emotion- one of the most profound emotions that human life has to offer. The feeling that something beyond you, perhaps greater than, but mostly just other, has done something for you.

And yes, you can be grateful to yourself. Or for yourself.

But all this gratitude lip-service only serves to distance us from the truth in our lives.

I am grateful for my parents, who have supported me in
every insane endeavor, and who are even better
grandparents than I imagined they would be.
I don't want to see a stop to these gratitude posts. Hardly. I want to see them actually express their
thankfulness. Their humility. Their humanity.

Tell me what you're grateful for. Really grateful. Tell me what humbles you. Tell me what makes you aware of your fragility, and the other lives and powers in the universe that allow you to ignore that fragility for the rest of the year.

That's what I want to read.

That's the gratitude we need.

Take a minute and feel it. Feel vulnerable. Feel frail. Feel insignificant in your place in the universe. And feel gratitude that somehow, people or things in your life that are beyond your control care about you.

That something over which you have no control has happened and preserved your happiness, your health, your very existence.

Feel that.

And then go about the rest of your day. Because no matter how deeply you experience your gratitude, you have to live. And life is mundane. And without distracting yourself from the emotions that divide you from your typical activities, you will drown in it.

Be grateful. And then stop being grateful and just take it for granted and get things done.

And then be grateful again.

What are you grateful for? Tell me your story.

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  1. Your post is very powerful and has a poignant point. But, I also believe those nice sentiments are more than meaningless. Yes, it's rare to see those post what truly has them grateful. What has gotten them out of the dark, etc. But those children who love me could be from a mom who suffers PPD and food and water from a former homeless person, etc. It's hard to ever know what those sentiments or daily gratitude come from without elaboration. I do agree that people are quick to throw out those sentiments, too. Great read and very thoughtful!

    1. I see what you're saying, and I agree. What may be a simple sentiment to some could be incredibly personal to others. What I'm getting at, though, is if the statement of gratitude could be replaced with "I acknowledge," the sense of humility is lost. "I acknowledge my kids love me, I acknowledge the food in my refrigerator," etc. Gratitude, being personal, is difficult to boil down to such statements.

      "I am grateful for the awareness of my childrens' love for me after my difficult battle with PPD," tells a story of gratitude. And that's much more what I'm getting get.

  2. "To roll around in your bed of humility and experience every drop that your life has to offer is to shake yourself to your foundations and abandon your mundane responsibilities, to give in to a feeling of something more important than yourself."

    Oh my gosh that is so beautifully and perfectly said. For me, gratitude and fear have been joined at the hip for many years, since I have lost so many people I have been grateful to have in my life. In the past, I tried to shy away from revelling in joy and gratitude too much since it absolutely meant "it" would get taken away. With a lot of work, I'm beginning to move past that sense of dread and trying to just be grateful. It's overwhelming, with or without the fear. It definitely is humbling. And sometimes, yes, i just have to kind of ignore all of that love and life so that I can go on with the business *of* life. Because sometimes, you just have to get up and change the baby's diaper, no matter how much you've been near tears realizing how precious and wondrous it is that she's yours.

    Thank you for sharing this. I love it so much, and I am truly grateful that you are writing. I hope you and yours are doing well today.

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  4. Realize, feel love , express and share your gratitude for all major areas of life: Family and Friends, Health, Spirituality, and Work. Appreciate the “small” things in life such as a sound sleep, sunny day, safe commute to work, your favorite song, etc. Challenge and expand your awareness of the great deal of things we receive every day and you will see a different world.



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