Learning to Feel Gratitude in a Conflicted and Troubled World

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I've been thinking a lot about gratitude lately.  Not that I haven't considered it before, I have, everyday.  I was raised in a time when I was taught to write thank you notes.  My paternal grandmother was big on things like that.  Many were big on that sort of etiquette in that time.  I tried to instill that habit into my girls - the importance of acknowledging a gift or other form of kindness - for two reasons: it makes the giver feel good and it makes you, the receiver, feel good.  Hopefully if you take the time to thank someone for something, it's not just out of obligation, it's because you have appreciated their kindness and their kindness really means something to you. Also, you are less likely to forget it. In other words, when we truly make note of someone's kindness, we feel grateful and when we take time to acknowledge their kindness - they feel good.  Know what I mean?  Sadly I'm afraid we live in a world today where so much is taken for granted.

I think Oprah made gratitude trendy in her magazine several years ago.  Today you can find rustic signs for your home with words like 'thankful' and 'gratitude' on them all over the internet and in every store and boutique.  Gratitude is definitely an IN word today.   But do we really feel gratitude?  And what are we feeling gratitude for?  If you ask a little kid what they're grateful for they'll answer things like: my mom and dad, my pet, superheroes.  If you ask an adult they might answer with things like: my job, my health, my family.  All of these are definitely things we should feel grateful for but I think we can lengthen that list and I'll explain how.  

Have you noticed that as a society we have gotten a little discouraged?   It's easy to look at such devastation and feel gratitude that it's not our own lives we're watching on TV.  But it's also pretty easy to feel down and hopeless listening to the daily news.  We seem to be a country divided in our opinions...when it comes to politics and beliefs in general.  It seems on any given day on social media people are enthusiastically bickering, and so conflicted over so many things.  Such emphasis on freedom of speech has fueled that fire, along with the safety shield of our computer screen.  What we were once afraid to say out loud, we now feel justified and emboldened to say - because we can.  I'm not saying we shouldn't have opinions, but I think all of these opinions have hardened us a bit.  We're walking around feeling  privileged, and entitled. We're convinced our opinions are the correct opinion and we're not ashamed to voice that opinion - everywhere.  There was a time when we'd keep that opinion to ourselves and respect that someone else had a different opinion.  I think I liked us better when we were softer and when the emotions that filled us were kinder and less outspoken, when instead of debating with others, we listened and respected their differing opinions.  What does this have to do with gratitude?  Well, it's kind of hard being open to emotions like kindness and gratitude when our hearts are full of anger and frustration.  It becomes easier to overlook the good stuff in our lives when we're so focused on winning debates.  Think about it.  

How can we fix this?  I have an idea.  I know we don't normally begin to focus on gratitude in earnest until November in the days leading to Thanksgiving, but I want to challenge you to focus on it early.  I also want you to lower your gratitude barometer, meaning I want you to begin to feel gratitude for smaller things.  For example, the next time you get to the front of the grocery store and there aren't long lines, feel gratitude for that.  How about the next time you're driving someplace and running late and you luck out and get all green lights or even mostly green lights - feel gratitude for that.   Why can't you feel grateful for that night that you didn't have to get up to pee and you got to sleep all night?  Maybe that person at work who gets on your last nerve actually didn't today....gratitude.  Part of feeling gratitude is paying attention to these types of occurrences and taking note of them, instead of just taking them for granted.  Admittedly, these are little things, but a few little things can add up if you put them together and allow yourself to appreciate them.  The next time your spouse throws his clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor - feel grateful.  When you're driving down the road and the sunset is especially beautiful - feel grateful.  Life is full of moments worthy of our attention and gratitude - big and small.  I believe that once we get in the habit of noticing, we'll get in the habit of feeling and that feeling might hopefully be gratitude.  
I think we've become a society of immediate gratification.  We want what we want, have more than we need, and really don't spend all that much time acknowledging how much we have and how fortunate we are.  Consequently, instead of being thankful for the small things, we've made it a habit to wait for the big stuff before we take that 'gratitude' emoji out of it's compartment....a new car....a raise.....a vacation, etc.  So today I challenge you to take a moment before you close your eyes to sleep, maybe when you say your prayers, to think about your day. Find one thing that went right, whether it's something I mentioned, or something else...even something as simple as your drive-through order being right (don't you hate it when it's not?)...just take time to get in the habit of reviewing your day and finding something to be grateful for.  Set your bar low and soon I think you'll naturally be noticing more and more reasons to feel gratitude.    You can even take it a step further and keep a gratitude journal. Write someone a note thanking them for something they did that you appreciate!  If your packer at the grocery store does a great job - thank them!  Who doesn't feel amazing when someone appreciates you and tells you?  I know a couple that makes it a habit to thank their spouse for something nice they've done for them - every night!!  What a great way to feel and share appreciation!
Gratitude is the perfect antidote for so many negative emotions.  Why not give it a try and see if it doesn't change how you see the world!  I'll get the ball rolling by telling you all how grateful I am to have you all who read and share my blog.  Knowing I can share my world with you encourages me to get out there and appreciate what I see and capture it in photos.  It helps me see the world, not just pass by it.  I hope my photos have a little of that effect on you too!  Thanks for stopping by Life As I See It.  Share this with someone you know who has mastered gratitude or someone who needs a little help feeling good about their life.  

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