The more I listen to the gratitude of others, the more grateful I feel in my own life and the more compelled I feel to share with others that which has been given to me.
Third Grade: Mrs. Bammel, pregnant with her first child, cracks open the math book. It’s time to teach negative numbers. It goes like this: You start at zero. If you move to the right of zero, you’re in the positive. Simple stuff: 1, 2, 3. If you move to the left of zero, you’re in the …wait? What? Negative numbers. Makes no sense: -1, -2, -3….As toe-tinglingly in love as you are with Mrs. Bammel, with her Dutch-boy haircut, caramel voice, and bottomless treasure chest of glue, glitter and felt, you have to protest. “Mrs. Bammel, excuse me, Mrs. Bammel…. Why in the world would we count negative numbers? That’s counting what’s not there!”
Mrs. Bammel makes a decent mathematical argument, though at nine years old, you’re still scratching your head. Thirty years later, you are an expert in negative numbers, a master at counting what’s not there.
You count the things you’ve lost – the lack. It goes like this: You lost your marriage, your best friend, your house, your dog, all of your grandparents—and quickly. You lost your favorite shirt (the proverbial shirt off your back, one supposes). You’ve either lost money or a laundry list of dreams you had when you were a kid, maybe both, and probably a little faith, too. Your life is a veritable country-western song. And you don’t even like country-western music. Here you are: The becoming has led you to beingall the things you’ve always feared or hated.
You can count your lack forever, and it’s an easy thing to do, and if you’re always only counting then you’re always never at risk of losing anything ever again.
Except even when you think you’ve lost everything, you’re never without. In fact, this is the perfect moment to allow gratitude to be your guru, to whisper with grace small words of thanks for everything – anything – in your life. Begin like this:
I am alive.
How beautiful would this world be if we counted all that we have and not what we’ve lost or never had?
The funny thing about life’s riches, they were always there; I wasn’t. Becoming present was not the result of therapy, or chiropractic adjustments, or yoga, or aimless road trips, though all of those things certainly helped. The real key was simply listening without borders, boundaries, or expectations. Letting go of the knowing and really just living in the experience. You are surrounded by people who are living in bliss. I was. I am. And it is our duty, as Kurt Vonnegut shared weeks before his passing in 2008, to help each other through this life in whatever ways we can.
As a journalist, it is my job to listen. So, discarding the third grade math lessons of Mrs. Bammel, I chose to listen. Really listen. What I found: Listening feels good. It feels great. I receive so much by simply being more present. This is an enormous gift I have been given. The more I listen to the gratitude of others, the more grateful I feel in my own life and the more compelled I feel to share with others that which has been given to me. You cannot listen to the gratitude of others without being reminded of the great gift that is your own life, without experiencing a profound ignition of your own passions and curiosities about the world in which we live, without discovering anew or for the first time high magic and low puns and great possibilities and unexpected delights that exist right here and now in this universe. Your universe.
To listen to and be moved by others’ gratitude, then more importantly, to share in turn, might launch a revolution of sorts, a minor movement toward a higher consciousness that puts at a premium the simple act of counting our blessings and sharing them with others. How beautiful would this world be if we counted all that we have and not what we’ve lost or never had? Your gratitude means as much as anyone else’s. And so I am listening. We are listening. The world is listening. Wherever you are, let it begin now, like this:
I am grateful for…
Todd Aaron Jensen interviewed more than 42 celebrities – who share their reasons to be grateful — for his collection On Gratitude, published by Adams Media, Avon, MA. He kindly gave us permission to post this introduction to his book.
Jensen is an award-winning journalist with featured bylines in more than 100 publications around the world, including GQ, Esquire, American Way, Spirit, Razor, Moving Pictures, and Costo Connection. His work is syndicated in more than sixty countries. A yoga instructor, foster parent, youth basketball coach, and former high school teacher, Jensen lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their enormous family – which they dub “the twenty-first century Brady Bunch.” He is a very grateful man.