The Attitude of Gratitude—Thoughts From a Seasoned Contrarian
As a Life-Coach I like things that work, that get results and help people make useful changes in their daily lives. And I’m especially impressed by how well one practice seems to work in shifting a self-pitying or complaining attitude into a more positive one.
I’m talking about the practice of gratitude; that is, writing or focusing on what you are grateful for in your life, rather than paying attention to what is going wrong. The attitude of gratitude seems to trump all others and when you are feeling grateful you cannot simultaneously feel resentful, angry, or sorry for yourself.
Kudos to it. It is an important point to remember, and does seem to help many feel better about themselves and able to cope with whatever life throws in their path.
However, sometimes I find myself, like the proverbial stubborn mule, balking at the word itself. I just don’t like the word gratitude very much and I think I know why. I’m sorry. I know this borders on sacrilege, so if you love it and it works for you, then stop reading this bit now and skip to the next section.
Here we go. For me gratitude always seems predicated by ought and should, as in, you ought to be grateful for your health/home/good income or you should be grateful for the food on the table. There are lots of starving children in Africa—sort of thing.
I’m so blessed, gushes the movie star from her Malibu home where she does yoga and meditation on the beach each morning while she sips her smoothie. The subtext is, I am the recipient of all these wonderful things that have somehow been bestowed on me and I am so thankful I am not like others.
Sound of teeth grinding.
Yes, I guess you would be. In the next breath she is saying in her L’Oreal ad that she gets to live this life and wear this makeup because I’m worth it. How does that work? Worth it? You mean you think you deserve it? Does that mean all who don’t have this stuff aren’t worth it? Are we all entitled to a house in Malibu? And how will she feel when she loses it all in bankruptcy or her next film is a failure? Still blessed?
Caveat here. I was never very good at what I should and ought to think and feel. I’ve always been one of nature’s rebels—cantankerous and bratty. And OK, a little catty at times.
Words That Work for Me
Back to the matter at hand. I am always casting about for words or phrases that take me away from either entitlement or victimhood. Words or phrases like gratitude and I’m so blessed but without the baggage.
There are lots of them: cherish, relish, not take for granted, appreciate, to name a few.
I really like appreciate. It carries no remonstrance or guilt-trip for me. It means more or less the same thing as gratitude, but with slightly different connotations. It is more about “valuing, noticing, being conscious of, or placing a high estimate on”. I like that. It’s good to appreciate things and people in your life.
But I don’t want it to feel like I’m thankful for being privileged when the rest of the world is not. Something feels ‘off’.
I don’t deserve anything any more than anyone else—trust me on this one. I’m not especially worth it and I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything. But I can appreciate everything.
My Favorite Word
The other day I stumbled across another word that expresses similar feelings, but in a way I like even better. It made me tingle with recognition. It’s a well-known word, but not used all that often in everyday conversation.
This word was lurking in a book called Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J Maarten Troost. (How’s that for a title? I’m so jealous.)
It was recommended to me by my equally rebellious and curmudgeon-in-crime niece, so I couldn’t resist downloading it. (We’re in this together Sally. I won’t give you away.)
Here’s the quote. See if you can spot the word before I tell you what it is.
“For what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington, we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something—a book, a sunset, a fine meal.”
There. There it is. Savored. That word just jumped off the page at me, daring me to ignore it.
Savor. That works better for me than gratitude. I want to savor life, everything about it, appreciate it, experience it, even the smallest of details.
Savor reminds me of chocolate—you put that truffle on your tongue and know you have to savor every moment of it before it disappears forever. You know it’s not a good idea to have another (well, maybe one more) or you will feel sick. But this first bite is just heaven and you want to enjoy it fully. When you savor something you totally appreciate it with all your senses.
I want to approach life like that. When I step out into my garden in the morning I want to savor the soft sunshine (unless I’m in England in which case I savor the rain and chilly breeze.) I savor looking at the trees and I savor watching my dogs playing. I know they won’t always be with me, like the chocolate, so I want to savor every tiny moment with them.
The Benefits From Nearly Dying
Eckhart Tolle, the great spiritual teacher and author, says he enjoys reading about near death experiences because it seems to be the closest any of us will come to proof of what happens when we die. Everything else is just speculation. He notes how, despite the differences in what is experienced or who people meet up with while journeying to the other side—Jesus, parents, Buddha, Yogananda, a spirit group, and a plethora of different scenes such as tunnels, beautiful palaces, brightly lit scenes from nature—everyone seems to come back with the attitude that all is well.
They also have a new perspective on life and most never again take anything for granted. They savor the life they have left. Every second. And are filled with purpose.
Ok, I guess they are grateful to be back in the land of the living, but strangely not always. Sometimes they resist being sent back, at least initially, because their experience of the afterlife is so incredibly blissful and interesting. And when they return everything is changed, different. They seem able to experience and enjoy life more than before. They’ve been given a second chance. They can accept whatever is happening. All is well.
Gary Zukav in his wonderful book, The Seat of the Soul, refers to this emotion as reverence for life. That’s another good word that resonates with me. He says,
“Reverence is simply the experience of accepting that all Life is, in and of itself, of value. If we perceived life with reverence, and understood our evolutionary process, we would stand in awe at the experience of physical Life, and walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude.”
Oh, I know. He uses the G-word there. But it’s in reference to reverence. And I like the way he uses it, as acceptance. If I’m accepting life as it is, I’m not complaining or feeling sorry for myself. I’m grateful, and appreciative, and I don’t take anything for granted.
How about this idea: It always seems to be the ‘good’ things we are grateful for. How about being able to accept and flow with everything that happens to us, things we judge as both fortunate or unfortunate? We are truly blessed when we can enjoy everything in life—good and bad—and savor whatever weather greets us each day.
A Beautiful and Elegant Turn of Phrase
Not too long ago I was grousing to a friend about how the word gratitude didn’t work for me. She said, “Hold on, I heard a phrase the other day on YouTube, or a podcast, can’t remember where, and it makes a perfect mantra for you.”
“Try this; first thing when you wake up say, I am the essence of gratitude; when you step outside, say I am the essence of gratitude; when you go to sleep, say I am the essence of gratitude. At every moment in the day, when you remember, say, I am the essence of gratitude. You don’t have to say what you are grateful for, unless you feel like it, or to whom, just that you embody gratitude. See if that works for you.” (Thanks for this Sharyn. I’m eternally grateful!)
Well, it does work. It’s a powerful mantra. I recommend you say it, all day, all the time, for everything, and every experience, without judgment. It completely reframes the idea of gratitude for me. It takes it away from objects to be thankful for, like the Malibu beach home and big bank account, and expresses an appreciation for simply being alive.
So I guess the word doesn’t really matter as long as it takes you to a place that feels empowering and significant. Who cares what the word is if it is life enhancing?
I want to savor, reverence, walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude, and enjoy every moment, taking the good with the bad. Just as if I had been given a new lease on life—a second chance. That seems to me to be what living my purpose and following the trail of my spirit is all about.
(Excerpt from my soon to be published book on finding life purpose, called Follow the Trail of Your Spirit—The Search for Life Purpose by Margaret Nash.)
If you find the ideas in this article interesting you may like some personal life coaching on getting your life to work the way you want it to.
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