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.
A lot of good comes out of being thankful.
Meditating on all the good things you have going for you–from the simple pleasures like a warm cup of coffee to the necessities, like a house or a comfy bed–gives you more than just warm, fuzzy feelings. It gives you perspective.
When I take a survey of my life and look at it through a critical lens, as I am prone to do, I see all the things that have gone wrong, all the things that could go wrong, and subsequently all the ways things could be better. When I compare what I have now to what I used to have or what I could have, I am left sad and disappointed. But if I look at my life through the lens of gratitude, the scenery changes.
Gratitude turns everything you have into everything you’ve ever wanted. Gratitude makes enough more than enough. True gratitude changes your perspective. Reality stays the same, but you do not.
Every year, I tell myself I’m going to be more grateful, that I’m going to live a life of gratitude. And I inevitably fail every time and grow bitter. Why is it so hard?
Because I confuse gratitude with pretending everything is a-okay, and that only leaves me bitter.
I would find gratitude more accessible if I realized that a life of gratitude acknowledges the messy, sad, yucky parts of life. A grateful person experiences and deals with pain and suffering. True gratitude leaves room for mourning and grief, for honesty and hurt, for disappointment and dirge.
In our haste to be grateful and optimistic, we forget that we need to make room for sadness and pain. The world is a beautiful place full of beautiful blessings, but it is also a place of pain, sickness, and loss. Gratitude is an artful, honest way of living that acknowledges the good with the bad and expresses honest appreciation, acceptance, and graciousness about the present reality. Perhaps the reason I’ve become so bitter in my attempts to be grateful is that I thought I needed to sweep the bad under the rug in order to be grateful when it’s really about living and appreciating the balance between both.
Gratitude isn’t acknowledging that life could be worse or be better. It’s acknowledging life as it is now–present tense–and being grateful for it.
It’s not as simple as saying, “Well, at least we’re not broke,” or “It could be worse.” Is it really gratitude when I’m only thankful for what my life isn’t rather than for what my life is? True, it is a step in the right direction to look at my backyard and think, “Well, it’s small, but at least I have a backyard!”
Yes, I could be backyard-less, which would be worse. But for gratitude to really change my perspective, I need to look for all the things I really love about my backyard as it is, not just appreciate that it’s not any smaller than it is.
Gratitude starts to shake loose the bitterness when I go sit outside in my backyard and meditate on all the beautiful things it brings me. Suddenly, my small backyard–full of fallen leaves and dead grass and neglected plants–has more than enough room. It’s not merely “bigger than some, smaller than others.” It’s mine, and it is full of potential.
When I express my reality in terms of how it could be worse, I’m not appreciating what it actually is. It also opens the door to dwelling on how reality could be better, too. The moment I witness the way pain affects my dad’s day to day life, and I say, “It could be worse,” is the moment I can turn it around and say, “But hey! It could be a lot better, too, damn it!”
I’m left with my reality and the two things it could be instead and no thankfulness for what it actually is. I grow bitter; on the one hand, I can’t be disappointed or hurt about my reality because other people have it worse. But I can’t be thankful because other people have it better than I do.
What if I learn to look at my reality and express gratitude for exactly what it is? What if I hushed the internal voices that whisper, Things could be worse, or Things could be better and just shouted, Things merely are, and thank God there are slivers of good and bad all in the mix!
Gratitude says: It could be worse, yes. It could be better, yes. But it is what it is, and even so, it is well. All is well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well (words written by Julian of Norwich, whose words have spoken to my soul as of late).
True gratitude expresses a thankfulness for the present reality. It looks not into the realities of others to compare or contrast hardship, happiness, or hurt. It looks not into the manners in which reality might improve or devolve. True gratitude looks at what is and says, It is well with my soul. It does not say what life could or could not be. Gratitude sees what is, and then says, My soul doth magnify the Lord.
So here is my Gratitude List.
Daddy is sick and in constant, crippling pain. He is here, alive, and I laughed and joked with him this morning.
Mommy struggles and is in pain in all ways pain is possible. She is alive, and last night, we cuddled up and watched “As Good as It Gets.”
Food is good, and I have more than I need.
My family loves one another.
My brother makes me laugh, and he is so, so smart and responsible and kind.
Azula is crazy and hard to handle, and she is adorable and cute, and she cheers me up.
Nick and I have a lovely home full of so much potential for personality and color and warmth.
I have friends who love me for who I am. They know me inside and out, and they still stick around.
I put words on a page today, even though the well felt dry.
For all the stupidity and ignorance in this world, there are enough truth-speakers and lovers to cover it all, and I am blessed to know personally some of these truth-speakers and lovers.
For all the darkness in the world, we have our lights and our cities on hills and the True Light to illuminate the truth and guide us.
Jesus became man. He knows of gratitude, of loss, of pain, of death.
Today, I woke up and was able to walk into the kitchen, take a shower, eat good food.
Tomorrow, God-willing, I will do the same.
Homemade margaritas. No, really–they belong on my Gratitude List, for sure.
Endless cups of coffee with cream coupled with laughter and good, real conversation.
A job that feeds my soul rather than takes from it.
Holidays with my family that loves me for who I am and all that comes along with it.
Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carols and hymns of Advent, joy, merriness and brightness, love, generosity, and the expectation of Advent. Oh, what it does to my soul. I am like a child again.
Holidays are not always easy for my family, and there is a part of me that is still mourning the changes that have occurred in my family over the past several years. It is from that experience that I have discovered that gratitude truly means for me. It would be easy for me to be bitter, to look at the families around me that seem to have picture perfect holiday celebrations, or to look back into my past and see how holidays seemed so much better growing up. But that line of thinking doesn’t help me grieve what I’ve lost or appreciate what I have. There are brief moments of reconciliation and redemption, of light and peace. Between the moments that are painful and emotionally charged, there are light moments of pure joy and love and good conversation that shine and sparkle against the dark of the heavy, hard moments.
I live in both present realities–the good and the bad, the pain-staking and the comforting, the heavy and the light, the shining and the dark. So I acknowledge both. I express gratitude for both.
Even so, it is well with my soul, which doth magnify the Lord.