Gratitude should come easy. Yet, it’s sometimes hard to put our thankfulness into words. Most of us, when asked to list the things we’re grateful for, have to pause. We think for a moment, take a deep breath, and then consider the things we should be thankful for. When compiling our gratitude list, we want to include the “must haves” of health, family, friends, and the like. This is because it’s important not to seem ungrateful or forget something (or someone important). It’s a little like winning an Oscar. When the recipient is called up to give their acceptance speech, the winners sometimes choose not to thank specific people. This is because they don’t want to leave anyone out. We don’t want leave anything off our lists either.
If I were to survey one hundred people, many would express thankfulness and gratitude for similar feelings and ideas. Home, family, health, and friends would come up time and again. Why is this? Sometimes we say we are grateful because we feel compelled to express certain emotions. You may be thankful for your fancy new boat (iPad, phone, car, gun, or house) but social convention forces you to look a little deeper at the world around you. We don’t want to be the person who expresses thanks for things that are superficial or lack any long-term value.
For most people, gratitude rises out of our shared human experiences. Being in community with others causes us to reflect on the benefits of food, shelter, love, and health. Either way one approaches gratitude, we end up in the same place. Most of us are grateful for the basics of life. Whether we’re forced to reflect on it or not, gratitude is really an acknowledgement that relationships matter, stuff is only stuff, and living is about more than finding your next meal. If our basic needs are being met, we ought to be grateful. However, to paraphrase the Bard, “there’s the rub”. I think our greatest spiritual and moral challenge is to be grateful for the status quo.
Our most profound expressions of gratitude are usually reserved for moments of intense celebration. When someone gets married, has a child, graduates from high school, we will hear speeches and expressions of thankfulness and gratitude. Listen to the people who win sports championships. The thanksgiving is effusive. Status quo gratitude is hard. We don’t win, marry, and celebrate achievement each day. In fact, most days blend into the next. Life is both hard and unfair. Diseases are diagnosed and people die. How are we to be grateful for the status quo?
I wish I had an answer. The first step is to name the problem. I do know that being grateful is more than saying a prayer over a turkey once a year. Thanksgiving is bigger than an annual Facebook post where you rattle off a few names and pictures. Gratitude ought to be a head on confrontation with the status quo. The mundane moments of today need to be examined for traces of thanksgiving. Gratitude is there, waiting for each of us, like an undiscovered country. It may be under the car seat, between the couch cushions, washing dishes, or paying a bill. Seek Gratitude. You never know when you may be found.
Richard Lowell Bryant