What Are We Grateful For?

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence.” - Henry David Thoreau

We stood next to the warm winter fire and watched the single red light turn into darkness. “Maybe he fell in,” said my uncle, followed by a few laughs. Then silence and still no light. The silence quickly turned to panic and search parties were arranged. Another four wheeler was sent off into the night in search of the missing light and the vehicle it belonged to. After an intense 30 minutes of consoling voices and a successful search, my cousin was found lost on a back road across the frozen lake. His return was met with a mixture of relief and anger. His response was fear hidden through uneasy laughter. We were all grateful.

There are experiences that instill moments of gratitude. The normalcy we take for granted quickly becomes threatened, only to be returned with great relief. Often, tragedy or misfortune bring us closer together and force us to count our blessings. However, loss is not necessary for gratitude. When seeking happiness and simplicity, one of the often overlooked and underutilized practices is gratitude. In a culture of consumption, gratitude isn’t marketed with the same persistence as desire.

If we’re searching for a simpler, more passionate way to live it’s helpful to count what’s essential. Along with the physical necessities, personal needs are important to account for as well. Before, we discussed finding our minimum in order to identify out essential needs. However, our emotional and psychological needs are important to assess as well. One way of doing this is to identify what we appreciate in our lives.

Write It Down

An exercise that works with my pessimistic clients is to create a gratitude list and ask them to maintain it daily. Among life’s problems and disappointments, there are lessons and gifts hidden between the lines. Each new experience is a lesson that can teach us about the art of living. Gratitude is encountered frequently in religious ceremony, though we do not have to be religious to benefit from this ritual. Everyday experiences, such as almost losing a cousin to a frozen lake or waking up in a warm bed, can help add value to our experience by preventing us from taking what is precious for granted.

When I first began working with the developmentally disabled in college I was taken into the lunchroom after my interview to be introduced to the clients. My first reaction was part empathy,  part dismay due to the severity of their impairment. Many could not walk, feed themselves, toilet themselves, clean themselves, move, speak or see without the aid of another. However,  this fear quickly turned into admiration and respect. Each day I would be greeted by smiling faces excited to be out their homes and around their friends. Grateful for a place to work and people who cared about them.  I’d catch myself complaining about my phone or an assignment and think, “I must be missing something here.”

Gratitude Instead of Guilt 

However, gratefulness can be mistaken for guilt. Being thankful is not a matter of comparison. Even with the inability to walk, see, or care for themselves, my clients still found aspects of life they are grateful for despite their limitations. Guilt is the belief that we don’t deserve what we have while gratefulness is it’s opposite. Gratefulness is about instilling worth, not taking it away. It’s a tallying of the good in life, and by doing so, allowing feelings of joy to deepen.

We all have something to be grateful for. The ability to read this, on a computer, connected to the internet are three to begin with. If you’ve read the last three posts, you’ll know I’m an advocate of lists. Start a list of a few people, experiences, objects, feelings, etc. that you’re grateful for and add to it once each day. If you’re having trouble, that’s alright. Once we begin to look for things to be grateful for, they tend to present themselves naturally.

I’m grateful for your time and for a the privilege of writing this as well as the loved ones who encourage me.

Photo by Vigdis Siguroardttir