One surefire way to transform our lives is to steep ourselves in the power of gratitude. Not the gratitude of thank you notes and good manners. Not the gratitude that reacts, feels indebted, or is solicitous. That kind of “transactional” gratitude – while wonderful and what we have been trained to know – can be highly conditional, occasional, and fleeting. And it rarely feels like enough. The rose fades. The words fade. The moment passes, and we are often left wanting…
By way of contrast, there is a kind of gratitude that can permeate every moment and is lasting; one that precedes and suffuses everything. It is not only a “something good happened” gratitude, or “I got what I wanted” gratitude. It is an “I woke up again today” gratitude, and “I walked into this room already grateful” gratitude. It is a radical gratitude, with a “no matter what happens, I can still feel grateful for something” attitude.
This kind of radical gratitude invites us to experience our lives as living laboratories for feeling thankful, and “full” – encouraging us to lead with vulnerability, respect, generosity, and authenticity. In this way, we can learn to live not just with gratitude, but from it; from that deep well of well-being which never dries up. From this place, we easily give, receive, and ask for what is needed, all with heart, all of it gratefully.
Surely we all crave the ease, resilience, and joy that come from being grateful more of the time. Sometimes we taste it, and it makes our moments delicious. But being grateful more often is not particularly easy. If it was easy, we would probably already be doing it.
…experiences which grant us gratitude fly through our lives like shooting stars – thrilling us, but disappearing as quickly as they came.
What Inhibits Our Gratitude?
So, what keeps us from being able to extend this more unconditional form of gratitude into our lives and relationships more consistently? There are many factors, and I call them gratitude inhibitors. Here are some examples:
Fear – “What if there is not enough?”
Scarcity – “There is not enough.”
More is better – “It’s not enough yet.”
Desperation – “I had better get mine.”
Envy and Comparison – “I wish I had hers/his!”
Lack of entitlement – “I am not enough.”
Entitlement – “I deserve this, and more.”
Denial – “I wish none of this was true.”
Expectations – “It should have been different than this…”
If you are like me, you can sometimes experience all these inhibitors in any given day or interaction – they often hang out together in bundles! It is no surprise that we need help getting, and remaining, more grateful…and, it is NOT our fault.
We are living inside an economic system, media messaging, and social conditioning that constantly feed these inhibitors; institutions hell-bent on wanting us to crave, compare, consume, grasp, shame and judge. These systems focus on manufacturing discontent, keeping us invested in illusions of separateness and inadequacy and stuck on the hamster wheel of insatiability, no matter what we have. We are encouraged to be class impostors, pretending we have more or less than we really have, and either way, to have our moments of “felt sufficiency” be dwarfed by “felt scarcity.” This makes contentment a far-off land, and experiences which grant us gratitude fly through our lives like shooting stars – thrilling us, but disappearing as quickly as they came.
We need a big re-frame on gratitude; one that keeps us connected and committed to living gratefully, and wedded to the possibility it holds…That re-frame is grateful living.
A Big Re-Frame on Gratitude
Cultivating, practicing, and sustaining gratefulness as an approach to life is radical – because it flies in the face of internal and external forces which want us to believe the big lie that we need to have more and be more in order to be happy.
We need a big re-frame on gratitude; one that keeps us connected and committed to living gratefully, and wedded to the possibility it holds for our lives, our relationships, and the world. That re-frame is grateful living.
Grateful living reminds us that life is a gift, and that there are infinite gifts within this gift. Its invitation is to:
Live as if nothing is promised you.
Look around you. Look inside yourself.
Appreciate the ordinary as extraordinary.
Notice beauty. Nourish love.
Be surprised. Be in awe. Be in wonder.
Recognize your privileges.
Open your heart.
Share your blessings.
It helps us see opportunities and gifts even in our most challenging times.
These intentions and practices inherent to living gratefully can help us cultivate the conditions for greater fulfillment and meaning. They connect us to the “great-fullness” of life. Gratefulness can make ordinary things, moments, and people in our lives “pop” and become more extraordinary. It helps us see opportunities and gifts even in our most challenging times. It can help us marvel at what we already have, and may have long taken for granted. And, it is a huge quality of life, and perspective, enhancer. As Br. David Steindl-Rast says, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”
(Watch A Grateful Day; a beautiful 5-minute video meditation which invites us to live gratefully).
Gratitude During Challenging Times
My deep wish – and one focus of our organizational mission – is that we learn to more fully treasure life, and the gifts that we already have, without needing to lose what we love, or nearly lose it, to know and appreciate its profound value…
Isn’t it when things go away, or are lost, that we most feel their importance? Think of an extended power outage, a drought, a broken arm, an illness, or a loved one. And if they come back, our recognition of the blessings they offer becomes so acute, and our gratitude knows no bounds. Then, after a short time, our appreciation often fades again. How can we better learn to take nothing – no thing – for granted? Why do we put off feeling grateful until the conditions are absolutely, just right? Why do we routinely walk past our blessings without acknowledging them? It will serve us to remember that our “just right moments” for showing that we are grateful can sometimes come too late…
Grateful living helps us never forget that we make our most potent difference in the world through remaining connected to what we treasure, what we want to protect, and what truly matters most to us.
Needless to say, these can be challenging times to feel grateful. In this current political and environmental climate, many of us feel buffeted around in storms of grief, outrage, hurt, helplessness, and broken-heartedness for our communities and planet as never before…
But, not remaining grateful for all that is worthy of our gratitude does not protect us or help anyone or anything. Living gratefully is not pollyanna-ish. It is not putting our head in the sand. It actually faces squarely the fact that wonder and suffering live side by side, as do disaster and beauty. Grateful living helps us never forget that we make our most potent difference in the world through remaining connected to what we treasure, what we want to protect, and what truly matters most to us.
The needs of the world are a cry we cannot afford to ignore. The needs of our relationships and communities call loudly for greater love, compassion, and engagement. The needs of our own hearts compel us to crack open and connect. This is why grateful living is so promising for so many people – it offers a direct and accessible path to transform our relationship to life, and in so doing, to contribute to the transformation of our world.
Photo by Joy Eli Defaria