Key Teachings

  • Grateful living is a liberatory practice
  • Fear is a constrictive perspective that sees dangers with a fight or flight response, but modern life is too full and rich for binary or dualistic thinking
  • The practice of grateful living grounds you and invites the cultivation of a bigger perspective

When I feel defeated by all of the distractions and information I consume on a daily basis, I go to the river near my home. On the shore, my senses are inundated with beauty — the light in the trees, a heron passing by, the roar of water over stones that drowns out most thoughts, and birdsong that enchants. The enormity of the world is very small there, and it is where I often recognize that my inner life needs liberation from the distractions and misinformation provided by external sources.

Fear can be the greatest distraction in daily life. It is a reaction that fertilizes a limited perspective, causing you to forget what is good in others and yourself. It leads you to quickly draw conclusions and to react based on the primal instinct of fight or flight. This binary approach is helpful if you are in the jungles of the Yucatan fleeing a jaguar, but is otherwise inadequate for living a full life, which requires a broad perspective to explore many possible routes and responses.

The grateful life is a liberated life. Liberation means to “set free.” And, in some regards, living gratefully could be summed up as being free of fear. Br. David Steindl-Rast is quite clear: anxiousness is a part of life but fear is a choice. In other words, where we are told to see danger there may be another way of perceiving and responding. 

A mighty gift that exists within living gratefully is that when your thoughts constrict your perspective, your practice opens you up to life.

When fearful thoughts and reactions contribute to limited thinking, living gratefully guides you towards an alternative path that begins with observation. Rather than only seeing a threat, you can explore what is before you and look for an opportunity. Here, you see the ever-changing and fluid nature of life and can respond accordingly.

A mighty gift that exists within living gratefully is that when your thoughts constrict your perspective, your practice opens you up to life — it liberates you from dualistic thinking that distracts you from whatever gifts, opportunities, beauty, and precious moments fill a day. It does so because it grounds you in each breath, step, and encounter, and in every moment where you are on this side of death. 

This practice can also set you free from the belief that you are unworthy or unlovable. And, as a result, it can free you from any conviction that some people deserve inclusion and rights while others do not. Here is where we see that living gratefully compels you to cherish and safeguard people and the earth, challenging a “throwaway” culture in which we have become too quick to discard both people and things. By freeing yourself from fear, you expand your perspective and what it asks from you, which allows you to better understand life and others and all that truly matters.  

Through practice we see that our inner life is where living gratefully cultivates growth for tomorrow. After all, how are we to be repairers of the world and to reimagine a life worthy of future generations if we are not first repairers of ourselves? This is a question at the heart of living gratefully. You can return to it daily.


When has a fearful perspective prevented you from fully experiencing a moment that could have provided meaningful opportunities? How can you free yourself from choosing this fearful perspective in the future?

Photo by Lili Kovac

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

About the author

Joe Primo is the Chief Executive Officer of Grateful Living. He is a passionate trainer, community-builder, and program developer whose accomplishments in the field of grief made him a leading voice on resilience and adversity. Grateful living became a pillar to his work since his first introduction to Br. David Steindl-Rast in 2005. An entrepreneurial leader, Primo designed, built, expanded, and led Good Grief, Inc., the largest children and family bereavement organization in the Northeast, from 2007-2022. His TED talk, “Grief is Good,” reframed the grief paradigm as a responsive resource. He is the author of “What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids About Death and Dying” and numerous articles.