In honor of giving thanks, the best of intentions underpinning the Thanksgiving holiday, I offer this reflection on gratitude — the condition, the emotion and the state of being. Note to Thanksgiving critics, skeptics and cynics: to underscore my awareness of the historical complexity behind the holiday, I point you to this article. Also, if it appears that I’m repeating The Importance of Saying Thank You, I’m not.
Now, on gratitude.
Thanksgiving, The Excuse
Thanksgiving, I’ve said repeatedly, is my favorite holiday. Aside from the craziness of “the biggest travel day of the year in the U.S.” and the lunacy around the Black Friday shopping perversion, the idea to my mind is pretty straightforward and pure: get yourself together with family and friends, share a meal (OK, so eat a ton), and be thankful for it.
Then maybe, in a food coma stupor, ruminate gratefully.
Or perhaps ruminate before the gorge. After all, blood rushes to the digestive system thereby depriving the brain of the much-needed oxygen to ruminate.
Regardless, I seized this holiday – the day of giving thanks — as a convenient excuse to do something I’m certain I personally ought to be doing more of throughout the year: being grateful and reflecting on what gratitude actually means.
Finding the Time to Consider Gratitude
Recently, I’ve carved out the luxury of little bits of time, something that very recently either felt out of reach or that I did not stretch far enough to grasp. This newfound and hopefully less fleeting joy has further afforded me the opportunity to reflect.
Reflection, by the way, is a wonderful thing. Regardless of whether you are examining the “good” or the “bad”, processing is something we humans need to do. And I don’t know about you, but this human needs to do more of it. After the autumn I’ve had — whereupon my head had become a traffic jam the likes of which they have in China that takes 20 days to clear — this reflection is most welcome. Each passing day reaffirms this more then the previous.
During this reflection, I’ve had ups and downs that shall serve as fodder for another discussion entirely. I have also realized something. I have so much to be thankful for, yet sometimes the panels of my life story flip by so quickly that I don’t take the time to sit with it and take stock of what I could be grateful for.
Gratitude is not a time-intensive exercise. It’s a choice to allocate a slot of time however narrow to simply look around.
So where did I find the time to reflect on gratitude? I made it.
To that end, a definition. I tell you, there’s a bit of variation out there regarding the meaning of the word gratitude.
“Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Gratitude, it appears, is an art.
At its most basic, the definition of gratitude seems all about gifts and givers, about merit undeserved. Underneath this perspective is the idea that gratitude is about being thankful for something specific, to someone specific be they living or not.
But it seems to me that the art of gratitude is about entire package of not just saying thank you to other people, but being thankful for what is — stepping back for big things and small and appreciating the whole.
Which raises a question: can you be grateful without uttering a word to another soul? I’d like to think so.
But I will not fool you, or sell the effort of gratitude short. Gratitude takes some work. A life’s work, you might say.
Gratitude: Good for the General Us
Practicing gratitude, it’s good for others too. Collateral benefit you might say. Even directionless, gratitude into the ether acts like a cosmic air freshener. Think about it as ammunition in the battle against ill will.
Gratitude lays a foundation for things like generosity, sharing, and contentment – and the continual learning and re-learning of what that means.
I don’t know where it comes from or even why it is that I feel gratitude around certain people and in certain situations. I am simply thankful that it I do – and that it is.
The Flip Side
The foil of gratitude, expectation or entitlement, suggests “Why should I be thankful when I actually deserve this?”
Beware the assumption of what you should have. There exists a real danger behind that entitlement: disappointment. So much of our existence, our sense of happiness and satisfaction is a function of our expectations. And these days, it seems like we are taught more and more to begin with an astoundingly high baseline.
Being grateful for what is, all things big and small, helps keep our expectations in perspective.
So, I am grateful.
I am grateful to all our friends out there who sent so many kind comments about concern for our well being, whether it was connected to frightening flights, crazy buses or the volatile situation in and around Kashmir and Ladakh. Travel can teach us many things in all manner of ways, and one of the greatest lessons is that we ought to be truly grateful.
I’m grateful for opportunities to see and experience things — astonishingly beautiful things — in such volume that I might well be tempted to take them for granted, which I am afraid I sometimes do.
Finally and most importantly, I am thankful for friends and for family. And to know at any moment that they and the people they care about are well.
If you have trouble focusing on gratitude, close your eyes and be still. Maybe it’s before or after your Thanksgiving meal, or maybe even during. And sit for a moment with what is. Take it in. Then allow your gratitude to seep into the ether. Maybe you’ll even feel it come right back to you.
That’s my piece on gratitude. I’m grateful that you took the time to read this article and even more grateful that you made it this far.
So, Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it. Happy Hanukkah, too. Or Thanksgivukkah, if you don’t find the name appalling like I kinda do.
Now go eat that turkey (or tofurky) or whatever you choose, even if you choose to fast and eat nothing at all. I’m grateful you have the choice.