So, here are a few thoughts on gratitude:
1. Gratitude is the foundation of presence.
Gratitude requires focus on what you have, not what you’ve lost, are missing, or wish you had, what was or what will be. The sense of loss and longing and loneliness and anxiety that feel so natural to 2020 are only exacerbated in gratitude’s absence. The opposite of gratitude is not being ungrateful, but rather being unrooted.
2. Gratitude is richer when it is more difficult to come by.
Sometimes it’s just hard to feel thankful for anything, but these are the moments when gratitude is most potent. Like most anything, the gratitude you have to work for arrives enriched by the investment. So, taking the time to be reflective, to see yourself and the world, yourself in the world, to explore those around you and those who are no longer, to empathize deeply, frequently to the point of tears of joy or sorrow, to learn something, to share something - this is the work of gratitude. And, its reward is far greater than the effort and far more complete than thoughtless appreciation.
3. Gratitude requires perspective.
For pretty much the duration of the pandemic, I’ve had a bulging disc in my neck. I’ve been in regular and at times near constant pain. I’ve wanted to complain, but, you know what: who gives a shit!? I don’t have Covid. I don’t have cancer. I’m not going to die. My fortune is plentiful. My privilege is grotesque. Gratitude dilutes the need to complain - even, and perhaps especially, if you have to remind yourself. I am grateful for my health - as it is. I am grateful for the health of my family and friends and that I’ve lost no one close to me to Covid.
4. Some days, gratitude is all you have to get you through the day - and, that’s ok.
I lost a friend this summer who I loved dearly, even though I saw her infrequently. Her loss was tragic and painful and her absence has surfaced my deep gratitude not just for her and her life - but for the people and life I lived when we met more than a decade ago. It has spurred deep reflection on the positive impact others have had on my life, hopefully that I’ve had on others, and a deep re-digging into why I am here. While her loss had me feeling lost and untethered, it has in my gratitude for her deeply rooted me.
5. Gratitude is a gift to be exchanged.
It’s important to do things for others, to be a part of other people’s lives, to feel part of a community. This can be helping or being helped, or something as simple as engaging in a random conversation at a coffee shop or even just viewing someone else’s art in a gallery. It’s connection. It’s exchange. Of ideas. Of energy. Giving and receiving. In a time of social isolation, these connections are harder than ever to find. Deliberate effort is required. While gratitude for others is critical for creating meaning in life, feeling the gratitude of others is critical to finding it.
This year has been a shit show, and yet I find myself more grateful than ever. But, I’ve had to work for it. For that, I am grateful.