What If Today We Were More Grateful?


The hardest arithmetic to master is the one which enables us to count our blessings.” – Eric Hoffer

I came across the following passage in a post on another blog I was reading this morning . . .

“[E]verybody’s always telling us to BE GRATEFUL BE GRATEFUL BE GRATEFUL and there is something to that. But for me, gratitude comes in moments, all encompassing, out of time moments—Kairos moments—and as a general knowing in the back of my head and heart. Gratitude is not always front and center for me. And I don’t want to be bossed or guilted into gratitude. Life is beautiful, and there is much for which to be grateful. But life is also tough. The big things are tough – like I’m sick, and I’m not getting better, and the little things are tough, like – WHY IS THIS PLAYDOH SO FREAKING HARD TO OPEN? The big and the little stuff get me down. And that’s okay. No need to be grateful all the time.”

And in response I wrote:

This reminds me of what Viktor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning“—

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate. . . .

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful. . . .

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

It’s hard to be grateful. No doubt about it. It’s difficult to put gratitude front and center. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just plain easier not to—not to put gratitude front and center. It takes so much effort, so much self-inflicted hardship and training, so much difficult and unpleasant self-analysis and self-overcoming, so much difficult inner work and inner rewiring, to facilitate that degree of a “metanoia.”

But it begs the question: If being as grateful as possible as often as possible isn’t our priority, then what is?

Survival? Self-preservation? Making it through the day so we can get up and do it all again tomorrow? And then the day after that and the day after that?

And then what?

What if we were all more grateful more often? How would that change things?

To me it seems clear that much of the time, life is neither inherently pleasant or unpleasant, easy or difficult, and that in those situations, it’s our attitude and thinking that either makes our experience of life at that moment either heavenly or hellish. In other words, as we are, so too is how we see and experience life. So thus the question—why not strive to make ourselves more grateful, to cultivate withn ourselves a greater attitude of gratitude and appreciation? Why not make gratitude more of a front and center focus? Because if not gratitude, then what?  What will we being allowing to rule us?  Anger?  Resentment? Bitterness? Disappointment? Constant craving? Ungratefulness?

No need to be grateful all of the time. . . . We don’t have to feel grateful all the time.” Fair enough. I’m not grateful all of the time. But I am much more appreciative and grateful than I was 10 years ago, not to mention 20 years ago.  I think that is something we can all strive to improve in—to be more grateful and appreciative today than we were yesterday or last year or 5 or 10 years ago.  That is certainly my aim.  I know that I do appreciate life more than I use to; I appreciate the little things, the simple things more. And teaching myself to be more grateful has definitely opened me up to more “kairos” moments. And learning how to be more appreciative and grateful has seemed to make many of life’s losses and sufferings more bearable. For one, there’s less regret over wasted time (for the simple fact that the more you appreciate life and live as if time is a gift, then the less of it you tend to waste by going through life sleepwalking or trying to numb yourself or being pissed off and angry that life isn’t meeting your demands). And two, there’s less “denial.” Part of what instills a sense of greater gratitude and appreciation for life seems to be facing how capricious and transient life is (granted this is very unpleasant to do, which is why so few tend to do it). And so the more deeply and honestly we come to terms with our own and others’ mortality (and cut back on our denial), then the proportionally greater potential we have to be grateful and appreciative. As Chesterton put it,

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether we take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

And so why not be as grateful as possible as often as possible and train ourselves in this way of engaging more and more of life? Especially if it allows us to go through life with more grace and perspective and composure?

I believe there is a part of each of us—the “what’s best in each us” part—that longs to fall to its knees more regularly and say more often with incredible depth of feeling:

“Dear God, whose name I do not know, thank you . . .  thank you for my life. I had forgotten how big . . . thank you . . . “

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And in my experience it requires a lot of honesty and courage and real humility to get in touch with that part of ourselves, and to desire to get in touch with that part of ourselves.

Humility seems to be the key. I think ultimately humility is the key to becoming more grateful and appreciative. After all, it takes a lot of real humility to wrestle honestly with our own mortality, to realize that we will die (our “pride” won’t let us think about our own death and how small we are). And it also takes a lot of humility to look a why we don’t want to put a greater sense of appreciation for life front and center in the way we live—it takes a lot of humility to really look at why we say “I don’t want to be bossed or guilted into gratitude.” To me, “I don’t want to be bossed or guilted into gratitude” lacks a certain amount of humility.  And it takes humility to learn—and the greater the lesson, typicaly the greater the humility required to learn it.  Personally, at this point in my life, I don’t know if there’s anything in life that I don’t want to be bossed or guilted into learning, especially if it holds the potential of helping me become a better human being. I really don’t care if I’m “right” in how I see life, what I’m more interested in is whether I’m seeing life accurately, fairly, honestly. It’s not an “ego” thing where I have to be right about it. —It’s not about who’s right but what’s right—or what’s true or most accurate.

Yes, “Pain is pain, and we all get the privilege of feeling it.” But there are other ways of looking at this. As Helen Keller put it, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and every one, and make that Best a part of my life.”

To me this is what rings more true. And to me this is always the miracle—increasing our appreciation for life and for what we have; learning to see things more appreciatively, and downsizing that part of ourselves that tends to run petty, ungrateful, whiny, complaining, asleep. (“He must increase; I must decrease“—what’s best in me must increase, what’s worst and weakest in me must decrease.)  It’s a miracle whenever anyone awakens and increases their appreciativeness and gratefulness and decreases how disgruntled and unhappy and angry they are. And this is difficult; making this happen is difficult.  No doubt about it.  Affecting this change in ourselves—or even helping encourage it in others—is difficult.

But it’s the good kind of difficult. They type of difficult that makes us better human beings. . . .

“All of us have read thrilling stories in which the hero had only a limited and specified time to live. Sometimes it was as long as a year; sometimes as short as twenty-four hours. But always we were interested in discovering just how the doomed man chose to spend his last days or his last hours. . . .

“Such stories set us thinking, wondering what we should do under similar circumstances. What events, what experiences, what associations, should we crowd into those last hours as mortal beings? What happiness should we find in reviewing the past, what regrets?

“Sometimes I have thought it would be an excellent rule to live each day as if we should die tomorrow. Such an attitude would emphasize sharply the values of life. We should live each day with a gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of appreciation which are often lost when time stretches before us in the constant panorama of more days and months and years to come. . . .

“In stories, the doomed hero is usually saved at the last minute by some stroke of fortune, but almost always his sense of values is changed. He becomes more appreciative of the meaning of life and its permanent spiritual values. It has often been noted that those who live, or have lived, in the shadow of death bring a mellow sweetness to everything they do.

“Most of us, however, take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life.

“The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our facilities and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight. . . . [T]hose who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation. It is the same old story of not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of health until we are ill.

“I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound. . . .

“Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. ‘Nothing in particular,’ she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.

“How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter’s sleep. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable convolutions; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song. I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush through my open fingers. To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug. To me the pageant of seasons is a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips.

“At times my heart cries out with longing to see all these things. If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than as a means of adding fullness to life.

“If I were the president of a university I should establish a compulsory course in ‘How to Use Your Eyes’. The professor would try to show his pupils how they could add joy to their lives by really seeing what passes unnoticed before them. He would try to awake their dormant and sluggish faculties.” (Helen Keller, “Three Days to See.”)

 

Related articles & posts on Gratitude:

http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/happy-thanksgiving/

http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/love-gratitude-and-perspective/

http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/the-learning-of-love-gratitude/

http://courageandchoice.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/always-do-your-best-the-power-of-gratitude/

http://elenaabrams.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/gratitude-day-25/

http://trishborgdorff.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/thanksgiving-and-gratitude/

http://letlifeinpractices.com/2012/05/03/teaching-children-to-be-grateful/

http://www.everydayhealth.com/saying-thanks/teaching-kids-the-importance-of-gratitude.aspx

http://gyatoday.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/50-shades-of-gratitude/

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Albert Schweitzer on Love, Death, and Gratitude


(This is my abridgment and arrangement and adaptation of pp. 67-76 of “Reverence for Life.” It comes from a sermon Schweitzer preached Sunday, November 17, 1907, at the morning service at St. Nicolai’s Church.)

A man and a woman who love each other have not experienced everything together in life unless, looking at each other, the questions have occurred to each: What would become of you without me? And what would become of me without you?

Something deep and sanctifying takes place when people who belong to each other share the thought that every day, each coming hour, may separate them.

In this awareness we always find that the initial anxiety gives way to deeper and very important questions: Have we given each other everything we could? Have we been everything we might have been to one another? Is there anything we would like to undo, something we wished had never happened or that we had not said?

We sense that perhaps we can better bear the parting if we have treated each other with such love.

What a different world this would be if we dared to look deeply at each other, if we kept in mind the prospect of being torn unexpectedly from each other. We each would become more sacred to one another because of death. So much of what we value, so much of what captivates us and engages us, so much of what we fight over and bicker about, is only of temporary worth. In an instant, in the very next hour, it may become utterly valueless.

We all pretend toward one another that the possibility of each other’s death or our own could never happen. No other rule of behavior is so scrupulously observed as this. Most people around us still live in bondage to death. They won’t mention death’s name, and they refuse to think about it. You as well as I can see the unnaturalness of this conspiracy—this conspiracy of silence by which death asserts its rule over modern man. Let us observe ourselves at this very moment. Look at our involuntary embarrassment. We know each other; we share the thought that we all must die. And although we feel this strange embarrassment, I believe that we also can share an awareness that can help us to overcome the thoughtlessness with which death is usually ignored.

Often, as we look at ourselves and others, we realize how poorly and disjointedly we have been living at times. This is because we have not yet made it a practice to think honestly about death and therefore we have not achieved an inward from the unessential things in life.

We must each become familiar with the thought of death if we want to grow into really good people. We need not dwell on it every hour or even every day, but let us not close our eyes to it either.

Thinking about death in this way produces a true love for life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each week, each day, as the gift that it is. Only if we are thus able to accept life—bit by bit; as something we owe of ourselves, instead of something owed us—does it become precious.

Only familiarity with the thought of death creates true, inward freedom from material things. The ambition, greed, love of power, lust for security that we keep in our hearts, that shackles us to this life in chains of bondage, cannot in the long run deceive the person who looks death in the face.

Rather, by contemplating our end and the futility of so many of our pursuits, we eventually can be purified and delivered from our baser selves, from material things, as well as from the fear and hatred and jealousy that isolate us from our fellow men and women.

So how can our normal lives and interactions be transformed? By regarding, in moments of deepest concentration, our own lives and those who are part of our lives as though we already had lost them to death, only to receive them back for a little while.

The person who dares to live his life in this way, with death before his eyes, the person who receives life back bit by bit and lives as though it did not belong to him by right but has been bestowed upon him as a temporary gift, such a person has much freedom and peace of mind because he has come a long way in overcoming death.

What “Carpe Diem” Really Means


I posted this on another person’s blog in response to her post. Here’s a snippet of her post. You can read the full post here

2011 Lesson #2 : Don’t Carpe Diem

Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen:

An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, “Oh- Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.”

Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.

And I posted the following response–

Carpe diem isn’t about enjoyment, it’s about appreciation, first and foremost, and from that deep appreciation much more enjoyment will flow.

It’s about having more and more of what you call “Kairos” moments each day. That’s carpe diem.

But you’re young. And young people aren’t supposed to have a lot of perspective and be able yet to truly appreciate what they have. That’s just the way we’re built are as human beings. We’re built very myopically, with a lot of blind spots. That’s just how we come equipped into this world.

In order for any of us to truly appreciate what we have we first have to lose things, people especially. We have to have our hearts broken and wrung, we have to know that tomorrow is not a sure thing, that our own health is not certain, that the health of those we love is not certain, that accidents and tragedies do happen and can happen at any time on any day, even a bright blue sunny day. Otherwise, we will tend to live blindly and not really get how lucky we are and how good we have it.

Frankly, we’ll come across as a little spoiled.

The other route we have to learning how to better appreciate what we have is to develop a genuine spiritual practice that encourages us everyday to realize what we have and realize how quickly it can all change (for the worse) and be taken from us. This can be mediation first thing in the morning, reading something of substance, journalling and blogging, et cetera. But it needs to be some sort of spiritual practice that allows us to get perspective, to come closer to the bigger questions and issues in life, to get down to the “heart of the matter”—to what really matters in life. It needs to be a practice that encourages us to begin with the end in mind, to begin with our own and others’ fragility and mortality in mind. That’s what “carpe diem” is all about—

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying

This same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying. That’s the essence of carpe diem, or “seize the day.” Not living in denial. Not choosing the path of least resistance—meaning the path that doesn’t trigger our insecurities and fears.

Yet carpe diem—appreciating what we have—is also completely contrary to how we’re built and how we’re hard-wired. We’re never satisfied. We always want more, want newer, want better. But more importantly we live and love blindly, myopically, as if death and loss are far away and far off things that will never touch or at least aren’t suppose to touch us now. But I guarantee if they’re not touching you today or tomorrow, they’ll be touching someone else in a way that you don’t want to imagine and with a pain you cannot begin to comprehend.

This world is heartbreaking, yes. It’s beautiful and brute-iful. You have that right in your lovely “Meet Glennon” essay. And, agreed, it would be great to be able to go through this life armored up against the pain and tragedy inherent in this world. And people still try. They still go for armor. And the ultimate armor is our minds, how we use our own thinking to help us deny the pain in this world and anesthetize us to it—how we invent stories and reasons why we don’t have to get perspective, why we don’t have to think about death or tragedy. The human mind is a never-ending source of wonderment when it comes to inventing rationalizations (rational lies) that will support it in not having to face reality or deal with painful truths.

My suspicion, Glennon, is that you don’t like what those people are saying to you not because it’s not true, but because it is true and you recognize that, but you would prefer not to have to deal with the consequences of admitting that life and health are fleeting. You don’t want to face the pain of thinking about what these strangers’ words (including my own) really mean. You don’t want to have to feel those feelings right now—what it might mean to permanently lose someone you love or to see your children grown and gone and this chapter of your life closed. You don’t want to have to feel that sorrow and process those intense emotions.

But who does?

But life is always in the right and always gets the last word. We’re going to have to face certain brutal truths sooner or later, so why procrastinate about it?

Especially when doing so sooner rather than later is what will likely allow us to live better, more deeply, more humanely, more lovingly, less selfishly, less blindly, with eyes and heart more rather than less open.

The tag line to your blog is “Stepping Back, Slowing Down, and Focusing Up.” That might be very apropos here in reference to what you wrote. A great idea might be to rewrite the post, and revisit the subject, but this time from a different perspective. Visit a hospice ward, think about what it’s like to be 40-years old and married and in love (not necessarily a contradiction in terms, lol) and struggling with infertility; think about what it would be like to be a parent who has lost a child; go to a nearby children’s hospital or Ronald McDonald house. In other words, play devil’s advocate—or, really God’s advocate—with your own thoughts and what you wrote here today.

Because as unpleasant and even horrifying as those sorts of things are to think about, it’s thinking about them that may well allow you to really appreciate the good fortune you have. That’s what these strangers are suggesting to you. because if it’s not happening to you, then it’s happening to someone else in the world—someone else is losing a child, losing a spouse, losing a pregnancy, losing their family, finding out they have cancer, et cetera.

There but for the grace of God go you and I.

That’s the essence of “carpe diem“—being truly grateful and deeply appreciative—Tony Robbins Personal Power type gratefulness; “great news the cancer is in remission” type joy and appreciativeness, the plane isn’t going to crash today gratefulness.

So why take the easy path and be cynical about “carpe diem“? Why not question yourself and your own thinking and see if there’s something you might not be able to learn from these likely well-meaning strangers and elderly folk. Why argue for what perhaps may be a fairly significant blind spot in your own thinking and your approach to life.

As the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes:

Before you can know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.”

It may be the same for appreciating what we have.

That’s what all this carpe diem “live like you’re dying” stuff is really all about . . . about not actually having to lose things and people, but getting real with ourselves and really thinking about certain things ahead of time and while there’s still time. How would you feel tomorrow morning if you got up and something in your life had suddenly changed for the worse—your health, your husband’s health, the health of one of your children? How would you feel? That’s the essence of what these people are saying to you—Carpe, carpe diem, Glennon, don’t wait till it actually happens, don’t just enjoy what you have, be profoundly heartbreakingly earth-shatteringly grateful for it, as you’ll likely wish you would were to actually lose someone.

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy (day after?) Thanksgiving!

A relationship cannot survive and thrive if there is not a deep and pervading sense of gratitude between each for the other and for life.  Without this mutual gratefulness, a relationship may survive and linger and limp along, but it will not thrive; one or both of the persons in it will be too susceptible to bickering and resentment, pettiness and self-centeredness.  Without gratitude, each person is much less likely to see the other as real, as an end in themselves, and not as a prop or as an extension of one’s own ego, there to emotionally and physically complete and feed and provide for the self.  Gratitude—a sense of genuine appreciation and thankfulness—for life, for each other, and for having found each other, is what allows two people to love and respect and genuinely care for and about each other.

Gratitude asks the questions, “What would my life be like without you?  Where would I be now if you hadn’t come in to my life?” and knows that one’s life is much fuller and richer for having the other person in it.

In this sense, each day in a truly loving relationship is a Thanksgiving Day!

 

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth—and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up—that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

“Gratitude is one of the sweetest shortcuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something we could be grateful for.” –Barry Neil Kaufman

“One regret, dear world, that I am determined not to have when I am lying on my deathbed is that I did not kiss you enough.” – Hafiz

“Gratefulness is the key to a much happier life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy—because we will always want to have something else or something more.” – David Steindl-Rast

“To say thank you is courteous and pleasant, to act with gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratefulness is to touch Heaven.” – Johannes A. Gaertner

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then a lot of animals are better off than a lot of humans.” – James Herriot

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Cicero

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G. K. Chesterton

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.” – Alfred Painter

“The happiest people are not those getting more but those giving more.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” – Aesop

“Good people and bad people differ radically. Bad people never appreciate kindness shown them, but wise people appreciate and are grateful. Wise men and women try to express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else.” – Buddha

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” – Eric Hoffer