11.15.2018

Taking the Guilt out of Gratitude




"Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms." - Diana Butler Bass, Grateful

When I read about gratitude, I always feel guilty--like it's something I should do.  Once I bought an orange gratitude journal from Barnes and Noble and set it by my bedside table, planning to write three things I'm thankful for each night--good plan right? 

It is possible that no item in my home has ever made me feel more ungrateful.

I would come to the end of the day, walk up to our bed rubbing my eyes, and think, "Oh, crap, now I need to feel grateful," as I begrudgingly picked up my pen.

So, I'm starting to think about gratitude as less of an obligation and instead as something that's bigger and smaller.

Gratitude Smaller . . . 

  • Instead of a notebook, put a gratitude rock by your bedside, maybe place it on top of your phone.  So when you reach for it in the morning, it's a gentle reminder to start the day with gratitude.
  • Do you make to-do lists at work?  When you're in this writing mode, quickly jot three gratitudes at the top before getting to task.  It only takes about a minute (and who doesn't love to procrastinate?)  
Gratitude Bigger . . .
  • What if gratitude isn't just personal, what if it becomes central in our families, institutions, organizations, and communities?  When I left my Waverly job, each retiree or person leaving received a hand-made pot from the art teacher that contained notes from students.  While presenting it, the librarian read a heartfelt note about the person's unique gifts.  Afterward she said, "Now you've been potted," with a smile.  Something about this meeting moved beyond work into something real, something so needed in our communities.  How could this inspire a similar gratitude ceremony in your family, institution, or community?
  • What if you start a class or a meeting with everyone sharing three gratitudes?  At first everyone will groan (plan on it), but reading them aloud might just be magic.  After the first day I did this with my students in November, they asked for it, and they linger at the cork-board where they are posted.  It changes the tenor of our community--and while it feels simple--I sense the group practice means something bigger.

So while gratitude does have a marketing problem--it's not easy to make sexy or bold or important--it really is free and simple and sometimes it can even feel a little magic.  It's not an obligation as much as it is a way to play in the world and show care.  

So, it's not about guilt.  It's about gratitude.  


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Today's gratitude dare is to buy and send inexpensive thank you cards.  So the next time you walk by that display, maybe grab a pack.  You don't have to sign 'em--just use 'em. ;)

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