How To Begin Being More Thankful

Gratitude, like love, is best defined not as a feeling, but as something so much more and different: as a choice, a behavior, an attitude, as a way of seeing things, as a way of perceiving and thinking about things.

Being more grateful—becoming a more grateful and appreciative person—is something we can consciously choose to do and work on.


We can choose to see things as half-empty—what is normally thought of as seeing things pessimistically but what also means seeing things ungratefully, in terms of what is lacking. We can also make the choice to see the same situation, person, relationship with eyes that see more gratefully. It’s not a pessimist who sees the glass as half-empty, it’s the ungrateful, unsatisfied, consumeristic type of person who sees the glass as half-empty—and who gets irritated with people who tell him or her to enjoy every moment with their children.


Truly kind and grateful people see the glass as half-full, see life and relationships from a larger perspective—from the perspective of knowing that things truly *could be otherwise*.  Being grateful means not taking things and people and health for granted.  It doesn’t mean that we feel shamed or guilted into appreciating them, because that would just be an ungrateful person trying to mimic being grateful and doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (but it would be better than not even doing so at all!).  Rather it means actually understanding—really getting it, having an epiphany or an “a-ha” light bulb moment—that things really could be otherwise and then rising to the occasion (the demands) of living in alignment with that insight.

OtherwiseJane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs,
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Living gratefully takes practice. To live more gratefully takes practice—hours and hours of practice—perhaps even 10000 hours to master. Which means that living gratefully will take determination/will-power as well.  It will take effort and practice to begin acquiring the habit of seeing life and relationships with greater appreciation and not taking them for granted. It will take effort and practice to not take things (and people and health, et cetera) for granted.

It will be a very difficult battle, because we will be doing battle with ourselves and some pretty bad habits that took root in us when we were very young and naïve, as well as doing battle with the societal and cultural influences that have shaped and reinforced those habits.

We live in a culture that encourages ungratefulness.  We live in a culture that constantly encourages dissatisfaction and seeing the proverbial glasses all around us in our lives—the size of the house the house glass, the car glass, the marriage glass, the size of the TV glass, et cetera, as half-empty.  We live in a consumeristic culture based largely on planned obsolescence and instant gratification, where we are constantly fed the message that we can buy our way to happiness and where we are constantly bombarded with advertisements bandying something as “new” (as in “NEW!”) “IMPROVED!” “MUST HAVE!

And we have been exposed to this pattern and this way of thinking and looking at things since we were young, since we first started watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading magazines. . . . What you have isn’t good enough anymore, you need to keep up with the Joneses and get with what is new.

And from “what you have isn’t good enough anymore” it’s only a very small step or stumble for most people to: YOU aren’t good enough anymore because you don’t have the latest this or that, or the labels on your clothes aren’t classy or trendy enough.

And so from an early age we are encouraged to “want the best for ourselves” and the newest and latest and greatest for ourselves in terms of what we life has to offer and that we can buy.

We are taught to try to buy our way to happiness and to a better version of ourselves and to fitting in and being accepted.  Constant craving and constant dissatisfaction are what drive a good portion of the economy, and these traits become embedded in us as ungratefulness, pessimism, a chronic lack of appreciation, suggestibility, the need for “retail therapy” (or “shopping therapy”—the beginning of the movie “Fight Club” was very good in its parodying of this).

And so once a year many of us try to go against the grain of our conditioning and instead we try to be grateful, we try to appreciate what we have—all before, or course, getting right back on the wheel and setting out on the biggest shopping day of the year and getting busy right back to seeing what we don’t have, and what we are sold into believing we “need” in order to feel happy, accepted, satisfied—at least temporarily, for a few moments or days.

Gratitude isn’t a feeling.  It’s a way of life.  It begins with appreciating what we have—which for many of us is actually more than most people have or will ever have.  It begins with getting perspective—seeing the ways in which we take things and people and our health and their health for granted.  It begins with seeing how things could be “otherwise”—understanding how precarious our lot is, how fragile we are, how quickly things can change in life, how disaster could strike at any time.  And instead of responding with fear and panic and anxiety, we make the choice to practice responding instead with appreciation, with gratitude, by saying Thank You to God, Life, the Universe for our life, and saying Thank You to those around us for being in our life.

Related articles:

The Problem with Thanksgiving (or “Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving”) (

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in "Otherwise", Gratitude, Jane Kenyon, The Examined Life, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How To Begin Being More Thankful

  1. Pingback: The Problem with Thanksgiving (or “Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving”) | What Is Real True Love?

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