A New Gratitude

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You are really concerned about Thanksgiving. I’ve seen your dozens of posts about its racism, pilgrims and gluttony. These are all really important discussions. Likewise, I find all of the seasonal slideshows about stuffing, pie and potatoes to be equally important. Your thoughts on this holiday are valid but without sounding like a dick: if these are your only thoughts on Thanksgiving, you are doing it wrong. The delicious filling on the inside of this turkey-football-inception-puzzle-holiday is gratitude. Sorry ’bout it Hokey Pokey, but gratitude is what it’s actually all about. By all means, groan at this very word and whilst you do so, listen to Ms. Patti LaBelle. Please enjoy the hats and earrings.

See, I told you. Everything goes down better with shoulder pads and drum machines. Even concepts like gratitude. Look, I get it: the idea feels beaten to death. Rightfully so, as our culture currently offers a warped and syrupy expression of gratitude. There’s 6,001 inspirational gratitude memes (none of which I will post because I love you). There’s an underdeveloped but widely spread idea that if you’re just grateful for what you have a magical gift basket of your heart’s desires will show up on your doorstep. And how could we forget the tweets using #grateful for the most annoying superficial things? Yet if we clear away all of the lame ass Pinterest sentiment, gratitude is actually some badass shit. Turns out, science agrees with me too.

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The Greater Good Center at Berkeley is filled with neuroscientists, sociologists and psychologists who’ve “launched a $3 million research initiative to expand the scientific understanding of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of health and well-being, developmental science, and social contexts.” Clearly, this group of smarties thinks gratitude is something worth investing in. So far, the research is already paying off. According to the website:

They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
Higher levels of positive emotions;
More joy, optimism, and happiness;
Acting with more generosity and compassion;
Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Tal Ben-Sharar, who taught Harvard’s most popular course on happiness agrees too. One of his six keys to happiness is to, “Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.” In fact, it was his book Happier which I stumbled on back in 2010 while housesitting, that blew my brain open and catapulted me into my own gratitude practice.

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When I was drinking, I remember watching a mid-2000’s episode of Oprah (which were the best in the craziest way possible. I could write 2,500 words on the Hermes episode alone) where she said she always wrote down 5 things she was grateful for before bed. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I probably even told people I started doing it too. But the reality was Oprah was a billionaire with lots of things to be grateful for and I was a drunken coke whore who was waiting tables. Coming up with 5 things back then was certainly a challenge. Still, it stuck in my brain so when Happier fell into my lap, I started making a daily list.

Keep in mind, I’m an addict so even my  early gratitude lists were excessive. 25 things every day along with 30 minutes of meditation. Apparently, I was trying to win some Best In Spirituality ribbon. However, binging on gratitude and meditation wasn’t exactly sustainable. Luckily, the practice morphed. First, a sponsee and I started texting our gratitude lists. Soon, my sponsor and I started sharing our gratitude lists in a private thread on Facebook. It was whittled down to five things. They were written with intention and I did it every single day for years even after I moved away from my sobriety family in Los Angeles to Denver. The list and ritual with it soon moved onto the people I’ve sponsored. And lo and behold, it’s been a daily part of my life for nearly 7 years. It’s the closest thing I have to a religion, if I’m totally honest.

Listen, I really don’t know how or why gratitude works. It’s magic and that’s kind of what my whole God spiritual life thing is based on. I don’t have any specific religious God defined. I just think the magic of the universe and all things I can’t explain fall under the God umbrella and it works for me. I do know that whatever bullshit I’m grappling with seems pretty incidental when I’m able to write down a few things that made my day easier or put a smile on my face. Sometimes, just horrible days being over is something to be grateful for. Gratitude has even managed to carry me through hard times. When I’ve struggled, muscling through and finding something, anything to be grateful my outlook transforms. Anger, sadness, depression all have been loosened when I focus on what’s amazing in my life and let go. Ditto with poor health. I’m no Berkeley grad but based on my last doctor’s visit, I can tell you my blood pressure is low and I feel pretty fantastic so I gotta believe gratitude (along with some decent choices) has certainly helped. Therefore, I guess it’s only natural like as gratitude has changed me, my idea of gratitude has recently changed too.

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As I was getting ready to write this, I was listening to Alanis, as one does in sorts of research situations. My current idea of gratitude was right there as sung by a 90’s Canadian songstress:

Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

That was it! When I started this practice it was all about just the sunny, wonderful things that made my life better. Yet as I listened to this song I realized, it ain’t really just about that anymore. Today, I am also grateful for the fucked up stuff too. I’m grateful for loss, for moments of darkness and yes even for situations that feel horrible and utterly hopeless. Like homegirl said, terror, frailty, disillusionment– all of it. Crazy but it’s the honest to god’s truth because I know that the healing and wisdom gained from hard times is immeasurable and something to be thankful for. Sure, I’d like that daily list to always be filled with rainbows and life-changing pieces of chocolate cake but being grateful for heartache and sadness is even more powerful.

Thus tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day, I’ll write my gratitude list as always. It’s not lost on me that I’m lucky to even be alive and celebrating Thanksgiving so that will certainly cross my mind. As will the people I’m grateful to have known who aren’t here this year. Not being drunk on holidays always makes the list. Then the list will move onto lovely things like hugs, my cats and mashed potatoes. But by taking 3 minutes to realize that everything doesn’t suck, the holiday becomes something incredibly special to me.

And then if I’m really lucky, I get to wake up on Friday and write a new list all over again.

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2 comments

  1. Mark David Goodson · November 28

    Flipping the concept of gratitude on its head, for sure. Obviously there something powerful in this thing. Look at those statistics! Thanks for the book rec, Happier.

    Well I was reading I was thinking of the movie vanilla sky, and the simple quote: “the sweet is not as sweet without the bitter”. So, thank you bitterness!!

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Battle of Bitterville | seanologues

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