Gratitude, like love, is best defined not as a feeling, but as something so much more and different: as a behavior, as a way of seeing things, as a way of perceiving and thinking about things. Gratitude is an attitude, a way of looking at things. It is a conscious choice–something we can choose consciously. 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, good little consumer 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. A truly kind and grateful person sees the glass as half-full, sees life and relationships from a large perspective–from the perspective of knowing that things *could truly be otherwise*. Being grateful means not taking things and people 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. Rather it means actually understanding–really getting it, having an epiphany or an “a-ha” lightbulb moment–that things really could be otherwise and then rising to the occasion (the demands) of living in alignment with that insight.
Gratitude takes practice. To live more gratefully takes practice–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 tough battle, because we will be battling ourselves and some pretty bad habits that took root in us when we were very young and naive. We live in a culture that encourages ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, as seeing the glass as half-empty; we live in a consumeristic culture based largely on planned obsolesence and instant gratification where we are constantly sold 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 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” in terms of what we life has to offer and that we can buy. We are taught 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, pessimistism, a chronic lack of appreciation, suggestability, the need for “retail therapy” (or “shopping therapy”; the beginning of the movie “Fight Club” was very good at parodying this).
And so once a year many of us try to go against the grain of our conditioning and instead be grateful, appreciate what we have–all before the getting right back on the wheel and setting out on the biggest shopping day of the year and getting busy seeing what we don’t have, and what we are sold into believing we “need” in order to be happy, accepted, satisfied–at least temporarily, for a few moments or days.
First off, this will not be a curmudgeonly tough-minded rant where I rage rage against how commercialize things are at this time of year and how “Black Friday” is starting earlier and earlier, so much so that it is now encroaching more and more onto Thanksgiving Day’s turf. (Although that is all true, it’s just not where I’m going with this.)
Nor will this be a glib positive-thinking post about being more grateful.
This will be a more tough-minded tell it like it is no holds barred post about why we–about why any and all of us–should be more grateful and appreciative, and how to get there.
And if this posts makes you feel guilty or “bad” for not being more grateful, then good: better feeling guilty and bad now rather than regretful later when you can no longer do anything about it.
The Problem with Thanksgiving
My hang-up with Thanksgiving—and with holidays…
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