Even though Canada had their Thanksgiving over a month ago, I still subscribe to the U.S. schedule. As such, it’s only fitting that I talk about gratitude this week. Gratitude is something I have only lately learned to practice (as in, the last year or so), and now it has become both my best friend and my worst enemy. Gratitude, as defined by Webster’s, is as follows: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. So let’s start with that.
I never used to be consciously thankful. I would, of course, say please and thank you during interactions and I would profusely thank a friend or family member when they came through for me, but I never actively practiced being grateful every day, and for things that weren’t dependant on other people doing something that served me.
However, recently I heard the notion that when you are being truly grateful for something, there’s just no space for any negative emotions at that moment. I like to think of it this way – when you’re being grateful, you’re starting from the bottom and exceeding your expectations. If I say I’m grateful for my healthy hair, I’m simply being grateful I have hair at all, and that it is healthy. Anything above that is like sprinkles on the sundae. On the other hand, if you’re happy or pleased with something, it’s like going from the top down. If I say I like my hair, that opens me up to being jealous of someone else’s hair or finding small flaws with my own because even though I’m happy with it, I am not grateful for it, so there’s always room for improvement in the mind.
In any case, gratitude is something that has eluded me lately as I’ve gotten increasingly overwhelmed with work, family, other obligations, friends, and my own loneliness. And on top of any personal anxiety I feel, there’s also the fact that the last two mass shootings in the states were in places mere steps away from loved ones, the area I spent my most formative university years has been scorched by fires, and now when I travel to San Francisco each week for work, the city is choked with smoke.
So it’s been hard to feel grateful. As a response to all the strife above, I find myself becoming unappreciative, bitter, and looking at these as excuses to believe I deserve more. More family. More time with friends. More time with my boyfriend. More attention. More money. More time. More hobbies. More direction. More of an identity. Just more. Nothing feels satisfying right now and it’s a horrible, lost, and lonely feeling.
But when I step back and take a look at all of these through a lens of gratitude, I realize that’s not really fair. Not fair to myself, nor to anybody else I’ve been dumping this stuff on recently. Because there is a lot I should be grateful for and all of those things deserve credit as well.
I am grateful for the fact that no one I know was killed in either shooting. I’m grateful my university didn’t burn down in the fire. I’m grateful that my family is always there for me and always makes me laugh. I’m grateful that I have friends all over the world. I’m grateful that I’m physically healthy. I’m grateful for quiet nights with my boyfriend. I’m grateful I have a job that allows me to learn and pays me really well. And I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’m offered each year.
This may sound like I’m just saying we should simply “look on the bright side” but I’m not. I’m saying, no matter how much shit you have going on or how much you’re affected by the state of the world, there is always, ALWAYS something to be truly thankful for. Something as simple as a really good meal, or something as life-altering as getting that new job you were after. It can be so easy to fall into the spiral of wanting more or telling yourself you’ll be happy “as soon as I get ____”. But if we think that way all the time, we never escape. There will always, ALWAYS be more money to be earned, more time to be spent, or more joy to be found. So if you can’t even find it within yourself to be grateful for what you have right now, then when will you?