All through November each year, we are bombarded with the message that we are supposed to be grateful. The commercialization of a spiritual principle, like gratitude, can be confusing and in fact, downright annoying. I myself have found over time, the development of an aversion to the originally meaningful additions around the Thanksgiving table of sharing our gratitude. My problem with this practice is that it is only done at this time of year. That, somehow, I’m suddenly supposed to be expressing my deepest feelings of gratitude right before I eat a huge meal. Not the best time to be bringing up deep emotions. I prefer to eat my meals without swallowing my emotions, even when they are lovely ones like gratitude.
This request is never asked of me at other times of year nor offered by others (except surprisingly on FB). Doesn’t that seem strange to you? I find that in my own life, on any given day, I may find myself expressing to my wonderful husband, Ofer, gratitude for my life. And for our lives together. How does this happen? It is a direct result of my awareness of what is happening around me, and the ability (developed over time) to judge less and be grateful more.
So many times we are focused on the “bad” things that are happening in our lives or around us in the lives of others. With a little reframing, we can see each situation as an opportunity for gratitude of some kind. Every experience is neither good nor bad, simply an experience. We can choose how we perceive life and our response to it every moment.
For example, I may read of a tragedy in the paper and say, “I am so grateful that we do not have that happening in our lives.” Or, I’ll see someone when I’m on a walk and say, “I’m very grateful that I am moving more easily than they are.” Or “It’s such a privilege to have the knowledge and support I have to keep myself moving well at this age.”
I remember when I was pregnant with my son and feeling the pinch of our finances. I went to look into getting food stamps to help us get through. I drove the van, parked it in the lot and went inside the building. As I looked around the room at all of the people there, I realized that I had so much more than they did. I had a vehicle to get there in; I had credit cards I could use to buy food while waiting for money to come in; I had a home to live in. It would be unfair of me to apply for government support because it could take away from those who needed it more than I. So, I turned around and got back in the van and drove home feeling endlessly grateful for my abundance.
Sometimes, the gratitude is for the passage of time and the stage of life we are in. When shopping, watching young parents struggling with a screaming child, we often say, “I’m glad we aren’t doing that now. It’s wonderful to have a grown son.” Stories of children failing or being taken advantage of in schools and we are deeply grateful for the way we raised our son.
Gratitude can be expressed in other ways as well. When I’m reading a novel, I may think, “I’m grateful that I have a family that listens to me and I live in modern times.” Even when I’m sick in bed, I find myself thinking about my gratitude for a warm place to snuggle up, hot broth and an understanding family to support me while I regain my health. Or, perhaps, I will be grateful that it is only a passing flu that will be gone after a few days of rest. I used to be resentful when illness (or jury duty!) interrupted my life. Now, I see it as simply another way I am spending the time I have in my life and a way to learn and deepen my relationship to myself.
Life in the garden provides resplendent possibilities for gratitude! On a regular basis, our family will see something blooming or peeking up in the garden, maybe a change in ripeness or plant size, and the excitement is shared with each other. “Come out to the garden, I want to show you this!” may be uttered by any of us. Sharing gratitude for the abundance and beauty of the garden is a daily gift.
Take a look at your life, and consider, what are you grateful for today? This daily practice can be done anywhere that nature is found. On a street corner, in a neighborhood, a park, or just gazing up at the sky.
This photo was taken looking up at the sky in the middle of the day while standing in a parking lot in the suburbs. I call it “Hope”.