Admit it. You rolled your eyes when you read that. But probably only in your mind because you know it’s socially unacceptable not to tow the line of gratitude platitudes. You heathen.
Grateful is derived from the Latin gratus which means pleasing or thankful. Gratitude is a stand-alone sentiment — this pleases me or I am thankful I have food to eat. So, how did we get from a pleasant ‘this pleases me’ to eye rolling? Are we simply oversaturated with “be grateful” quotations posted over misty mountain backgrounds? Definitely, but that’s not the full story.
Somewhere we took the deeply personal experience of gratitude and tacked on an implied admonition — Be Satisfied With What You Have. Now, ‘this pleases me’ becomes ‘I have been pleased therefore I should never want to be pleased again’ or to put a fine point on it,‘I am thankful for this food so I should not want for more food in the future.’
It’s absurd. Gratitude is a sentiment, defined by Webster as a state of being appreciative. You can’t measure gratitude. Yet, the depth of one’s gratitude (and the implied contentment with what one has) has become a standard by which we judge others — and ourselves. Here’s how it usually happens for me.
I look at my life, trying to see the long view and close-up in the nooks. My mind immediately hones in on the things that are bothering me like unfinished projects and a relationship I wish was going better and the bike collecting dust in my garage. And. And. And. It’s easy to get stuck here, mired in the unfinished, frantically making the next TO DO list. But if I ignore that list and linger for another minute, my focus shifts.
The annoyances start to fall away. Past the noise and distractions I see the abundance, the blessings. My mind slows way down, taking note of all the goodness, and I am pleased. I am thankful. Ahh, gratitude.
This would be a good place to stop the self-reflection, tuck that gratitude in my pocket and move along. Instead, I press on. And, bam. Waylaid. Again.
I call her Wild Dream. She’s all the secret desires and dreams I carry around with me but am too afraid to give them a voice. Wild Dream has been dogging me for years, carrying the same message: There’s more, bigger, deeper, better and you know you want it.
She’s right. I do want more. But the instant I admit it I feel like I’ve betrayed every good blessing in my life. Then the condemning voice starts in with the familiar questions, Do you know how lucky you are? How dare you want more, especially when you have so much.
It’s no use. Wild Dream has a hold on me. She reaches in and whispers, “Honey, you’ve got it all wrong. Gratitude isn’t the last stop. It’s just the beginning. It opens the door for more.” Let me repeat that. Gratitude isn’t the last stop. It opens the door for more.
It isn’t a final destination we’re striving for. It’s a muscle we exercise, repeatedly, until it becomes a part of us, a reflex. Gratitude is the great multiplier. It births big ideas and hushed dreams. It sets us up, steadies us and encourages us to seek more. Through the lens of gratitude we make better choices about what to pursue. Gratitude assures us it’s safe to push ahead. If our next leap is a bust and we land back where we started that’s ok because where we started is a place we’re already grateful to be.
We can be both deeply grateful and wanting for more. Both. And.
I’ll leave you with my original question, reframed. What are you thankful for today and what does that gratitude inspire you to do?
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