Gratitude: I’m working on it. It seems that outside the month of November where Thanksgiving is nestled, our culture isn’t a particularly grateful one. We’re consumers by economy, and as a result we’re constantly told to want more, acquire more, dream of more. While there is nothing wrong with more— of the right thing, that is– it can often lead us to feel dissatisfied with our now.
Aaron and I recently decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International— a program that connects vulnerable children with people who desire to be a part of those children’s journeys. Compassion’s sponsorship program has been vetted by research after many years in operation, and I am so excited to share more about this partnership once I start learning more. Our little friend’s name is Santiago and he lives in Mexico. He’ll be turning 5 years old in June!
Back to gratitude: it’s hard to cultivate. I find that often the inspiration to be grateful is based on guilt– our lives are so much better than those of others (perhaps my life compared with Santiago’s) and I am supposed to remember to feel grateful for all the conveniences and luxuries I enjoy.
But gratitude really should not require comparing your situation with someone else’s so that yours doesn’t look so bad. Instead, it’s a manner of acknowledging that while nothing is for certain and that we are far less deserving than we seem to think, good things have come our way. Somehow, despite the offenses we’ve committed, the mistakes we’ve made, or the misfortune we’ve experienced, we still live and breathe in a world in which purpose can be found. That’s worth celebrating.
Building practices: why we need habits
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I’m a proponent of both ideological change and habitual change. Without one, we can’t really have the other. Our actions are shaped by our desires, just as our desires are shaped by our actions.
So when it comes to gratitude, I don’t think we can just wait until we “feel it.” Instead, we can train ourselves into habits that help us see the realities we hope to see– the myriad blessings in our lives, the good work to which we are called, the truth that sets us free.
I have a few habits I myself am looking to build, and I thought I would share them here:
1) Regularly thanking people in my life for doing the right things.
Whether it’s my husband doing the laundry that he always does, or my students paying attention to their lessons, it doesn’t matter if what is being done is what “should be done.” There’s always the option of not doing the right thing. And I want to acknowledge all the right things that people do– to spread encouragement, to make note of their kind decisions, and to remind myself not to take people I love for granted.
2) Refusing to repeat the same complaints on a regular basis.
I hate it when things don’t change as quickly as I want them to. Not long ago I wrote about my struggle with waiting, and how much the lack of answers frustrates me. But I’m not going to allow that to shape all of my conversations at the table. I will continue to be honest about my feelings and reflections, but I won’t beat any more dead horses when it comes to my frustrations.
3) Looking back over the past months and years for blessings in disguise.
I love the idea that one misfortune can sometimes carry a hidden blessing, to be revealed at a later time. But I don’t always go back and look for that blessing; instead, I am constantly looking ahead towards what I hope will happen next. I hope to spend more time as months and seasons pass, to be able to appreciate the way that things unfolded and to recognize the good effects of those things.
4) Sharing what I’m thankful for with friends.
Gratitude can spread– and I think it’s an important perspective to bring into our conversations. I am used to discussing struggles and trials with my friends and husband, and that has generally been very effective. But I often forget to share what I am giving thanks for as well, most likely because it doesn’t come to mind as something I should share. Building this habit will help me not only to continually look for areas of gratitude, but to speak them aloud.
The bottom line: gratitude is not natural, but cultivated
If you’re looking to practice more gratitude– for your spirit, your relationships, or even your mental health– I encourage you to think of daily habits you might build to help you get there. We all know that we “should” be more grateful, but few of us know where to start.
Do you have any gratitude practices currently that you love? Tell me about it!