On Gratitude

It seems popular these days to speak of gratitude as an almost magical inner experience. As if feeling thankful is, quite literally, some sort of magnet, a means of attracting the good life and all it affords. That is, love, abundance, freedom, and general life satisfaction. I emphatically disagree with this viewpoint. 

Of course, I’ve written previously—and at some length—defending my belief that gratitude is, in fact, a key to the good life, even a gateway to freedom. But I’m not sure I did an effective job at explaining why I think that. Indeed, if I’m going to be honest, I don’t know that I quite grasped it myself until recently. Not until I started thinking in terms of personal responsibility, specifically Rollo May’s assertion that we have a duty to ourselves to be alive. For being active, decisive, creative, and engaged. For really living during the moments of our lives. (Or at least, that’s how I choose to interpret him.)

When looked at through this lens, it becomes crystal clear to me why gratitude is a path to the good life, to personal freedom, to becoming a fully-functioning human being. And why there’s nothing magical or otherworldly about it. 

It’s a thought that struck me this afternoon, as I was riding my bike: you cannot be grateful for what you do not use. You cannot appreciate what you do not see, hear, taste, smell, touch. You cannot be thankful for all that your body can do if you do not use it. That is, if you are sedentary. You cannot appreciate the birds singing in your backyard if you don’t take the time to look at and listen to them. You cannot truly appreciate the food you eat unless you learn how to prepare it with care, with a bit of creativity, and then savor it. You cannot be thankful for your home if you do not care for and maintain it, and you cannot be thankful for the people in your life if you do not tend to your relationships.

 You cannot be grateful for what you do not use. If you want to be grateful, first be responsible. Be active. Be fully, sensorially alive and engaged. Be creative with the stuff of everyday life, and it will transform before your eyes. It will become miraculous, rather than dull or routine. This isn’t the stuff of magic. It’s the difference between being fully alive and being inert. Indeed, it is in this sense that I would link gratitude to inner freedom: combatting inertia. Passivity. Conformity. Drudgery. It is the difference between choosing to be active, to make something of the moment or letting it pass you by, letting it imprison you, or numbing your responses to it. 

If, in fact, there’s an alchemical aspect to this equation, I think it would have to be this: you cannot help but feel grateful when you are fully alive. It is the natural byproduct of living creatively, actively, genuinely, of being responsible for your existence. You cannot be grateful for what you do not use. Use the life within you, and you will live a grateful life

15 thoughts on “On Gratitude

  1. So well stated! And I too feel there is nothing truly magical in terms of accessing gratitude. It is there for each of us…but as you have penned so perfectly, it requires action…which truly is all of life. Saying your grateful will not lead to true gratitude. Living it by actively using what’s within and around you and making decisions to care for relationships and things in your life will create a deep well of gratitude. It’s not a magical decision…it’s an intentional one that leads to stable and strong roots which will carry us through all the storms that come. And I love the picture you have attached to this essay. A woman showing gratitude for her body by dressing it up in a lovely dress and showing gratitude to the world around her by taking a moment to smell the beautiful scent of a blushing rose…well done, my friend.

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    1. Thank you so much. I believe very strongly that a lot of our discontentment, generally speaking, results from what we ignore. That is, we think it isn’t important to develop certain of our talents because we can’t use them to make a living. We think we don’t need to learn how to cook, how to move our bodies in creative and energizing ways, how to interact with nature and take the time to really experience the sunshine on our face, the dirt beneath our feet, or the fresh air in our lungs. We take these things for granted. We think they’re unimportant (or, in some cases, that someone else will do them for us). But when we take that attitude, we’re not really living, and there is no chance of developing a grateful perspective if we’re that out of balance. And you’re right when you say that gratitude creates a stable foundation and framework for dealing with life’s challenges. I couldn’t agree more. Anyway–I hope that wasn’t too much of a ramble–I thank you for your insightful and beautifully written comment, my friend. I hope you have a great week!

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      1. I love your rambles! 🙂 so many good thoughts…and I agree that we ignore the things we deem as “little” and unimportant when they are often the very things that provide daily sustenance for joy, peace, and gratitude..

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  2. U, my dear, are a special breed of writer. One who wears a cloak of stars and seasons of all ages! It is always a grand tour whenever I return to your blog to drift awhile to the darker side of the moon, and the brightest side of the sun!

    Being grateful fills the heart with louder beats to share with the world, and one’s own well-being. Shine brightly! ☀️🌷

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very kind, Myth, thank you. And I am happy to see you back here. I hope all is well, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. These insights have, perhaps, been a long time coming. Take care, and thank you, as always, for the beautifully written feedback! 😊

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