Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Problem is We Think We are Grateful

It is no secret that I am a student of gratitude, a practitioner, a believer, a proponent and a practiser. Gratitude is my muse, the spiritual cornerstone of my personal growth, the secret foundation of every successful relationship I enjoy, and my solace in times of life’s inevitable sadness. I talk about it, write about it, drive other people crazy asking them to look for it. I post, ponder, reference and quote great followers of Gratitude. But what is it? More importantly can it really change your life?

Gratitude is this….

It is a state of ‘being’, a position from which to view the world. Gratitude is, as they say….an attitude but much more that this; Gratitude is an approach to living that strengthens your values, deepens your compassion, fuels your forgiveness and transforms the ordinary into an experience.

Gratitude is highly misunderstood and its power greatly underestimated.

Most people think gratitude is about saying thank you. ‘Thank you’ is a nice thing; it is good manners, an act of social convention. ‘Thank you’ is a note in the mail that follows a party, a handshake, a hug, a smile in exchange for kind words and deeds. It is an utterance that acknowledges the receipt of goods, gifts, kindnesses and service. ‘Thank you’ is an act we teach our children so they can get along in the world, the ‘Yang’ to the ‘Ying’ of please. It is pleasantry; necessary, rote, expected pleasantry but it is not Gratitude (This is very good news for those of us who fail miserably at social convention).

Gratitude is the depth of understanding that anything we can be ‘Thankful for’ can just as easily not be ours.

This line stops me. It takes me immediately to a place where I imagine a world without my children, without my husband, my home, my parents, my siblings, my work, my friends, my dog, my sight, my hearing, my ability to breath, walk, write, eat, read. It ignites within my heart a sudden a deep appreciation for every ‘thing’ I am blessed to have.

The lump in your throat that arises in the moment you consider the loss of a single precious gift, that is gratitude.

It is pretty easy to find for those big, what I refer to as, ‘life’ assets; family, friends, safety, prosperity, and health. The real magic, the transformative power of Gratitude however—that, is found in discovering the same level of appreciation for the smaller ‘living’ assets. Ordinary, mundane, day to day events, routines, gifts and people that go without notice; the gifts that support our lives but whose importance we do not see until that are actually gone.

If you can cultivate the same deep appreciation, a gratitude for these things that you have for your Life assets your view of life will be transformed forever.

There are 2 wonderful tricks for cultivating more gratitude in your life for ‘Living’ assets

The first trick deals with ‘things’. When you come in contact with a ‘thing’ imagine for a brief moment what it would mean for your life if that ‘thing’ we’re not available to you. When you put on a sweater imagine how you would stay warm if a sweater did not exist. When you start your car, imagine how you would get to work, or the doctor or your child’s game without it. When you pick-up your grocery cart at the store, imagine the struggle it would be if you had to carry all the items you wished to purchase in your arms. As you reach for your phone to text your child away at school….imagine if that convenience didn’t exist? How would you cope without an oven, a hairdryer, your toothbrush, your bed, a furnace, your shoes, your coffeemaker, your computer? You don’t have to dwell, just take a snapshot in your mind of life without the object of the moment.

Trick number 2 is about ‘people’. Strangers are easily replaced with other strangers; our lives are intersected every day by dozens of nameless faces. It makes people invisible. It makes feeling gratitude for their contributions to our lives less important than identifying the ways they inconvenience them. To find a deep appreciation for people and their impact on your life you have to view them from the ‘underside’. You have to look beyond their action, peel back a layer and appreciate what it means for them to be where they are. The girl who serves your danish in the morning doesn’t do it because she loves you and serving you danish, she does it because she has a family to support. When your child’s teacher phone conferences you after school, you need to appreciate that he could instead be home with his own children. The doctor treating you could very well be ill, terminal perhaps. Would you know?—probably not, but if you did, would you be grateful for his devotion to healing others? I always think of this strategy when I see Mike doing the dishes; he hasn’t worked less hard than I (harder most often), he hasn’t got less to do or doesn’t want to put his feet up any less than I do and yet he chooses to lend a hand. I can say thank you to him, and do—but inside I feel an appreciation for what it means for him to be standing at that sink.

You begin with these two little tricks and soon a feeling of deep appreciation for everyday normalcies becomes second nature. You begin to see more good in the world around you than bad and in turn more good exists. In truth nothing changes except your perspective.

Around our house we have a saying lately ‘Perspective is 9/10 of the Law’, It is a silly little saying but so incredibly true, the way you see things is the way things continue to be seen. The more gratitude you cultivate the more you will find you have to be grateful for. You begin to find the grateful lining in everything (this scares you a little bit the first time you find yourself grateful for something crazy like dog poop—but you get used to it).

Something else happens when you actually feel the gratitude for the moment behind the social convention of uttering the ‘Thank you’ phrase—you feel the weight of those words, they take on meaning. Another little secret….the receiver feels it too. 

You can always tell a thank-you from a bless-you.

See how many 'Thank-You's' you can replace this week with the real thing, it will change everything else that follows.