Right around the holidays, Thanksgiving especially, there is a lot of buzz about giving thanks and listing out all the things we are grateful for. And with all the self-helpy research I’ve done over the years I’ve come to realize that gratitude is the basis of any good life experience – whether or not one lives their life within the context of an organized religion or belief system.
Gratitude is gratitude, so say we all…
The ability to feel grateful can get tricky for some of us. Some of us start out this life experience so far in the hole that just having enough to eat isn’t guaranteed, and when what we need does arrive we aren’t necessarily grateful for it, we can be kinda pissed that we have so little while others have so much.
Multiply that experience by countless days over countless years, and you know what? Feeling grateful isn’t the go-to response when something good happens. Even if we want it to be.
Disclaimer: I have hope that I will be able to be filled with gratitude, and when others seem filled to the brim with gratitude it encourages me to keep trying to reach for it.
A common practice that I have heard about over the years is to keep a gratitude journal – either a notebook by the bed that you write in each night, or type it in an app that is on your iPad, or even the more esoteric experience of mentally creating the journal. I have notebooks FILLED with all the things that I should feel grateful for, my life is truly filled with an abundance of reasons to give thanks.
This year tho, I realized that I can make a list of what I should be grateful for, but unless I FEEL the feeling of gratitude then isn’t it just an empty list?
What Is Gratitude
So I did some research and gleaned the following: gratitude can be a personality trait, or it can be an attitude, or it can be a feeling.
Personality trait: this is someone with self-esteem (confidence in one’s own worth or abilities) and lives their life in a state of gratitude. (You lost me at the elusive self-esteem, argh).
Attitude: this is someone that is expecting to be grateful in a situation.
Feeling: this is an “in the moment experience” when something happens and the person feels a wave of gratitude – this is usually intense and temporary.
So since I have no shred of self-esteem to speak of, I can be pretty sure that expecting gratitude to be a personality trait of mine right now is folly. And that’s okay because I know that this can change as I continue this personal journey of mine.
But my attitude can be modified fairly effectively. I think attitude is definitely caused by the situation – for example I would never blame someone for having a negative attitude about their job if their job truly sucks. However, they do have the option to have a better attitude about their job IN SPITE of it truly sucking. That’s their choice.
So when it comes to gratitude I do have the power to have a better attitude as I go about my day. The other day I woke up to a flat tire on a day that I had to run errands on a tight schedule. In that moment I had the choice of what attitude I would have during the process of getting it fixed. I chose to make it an adventure, to enjoy each of the people along the way that helped me, and to allow the rest of the day to work out in a way that although different than my packed scheduled, still was just fine.
I also have the power in my hands to be on the watch for reasons to feel the feeling of gratitude now that I understand that that feeling happens in the moment, not necessarily when I’m writing in my gratitude journal. So when the AAA dude showed up in under 10 minutes and cheerfully helped me begin the process of fixing my tire, in that moment I could feel grateful and I did.
Gratitude Journal? Maybe Not.
Now I realize that I really do have the ability to feel grateful, but that feeling happens at the moment of the event, so I can stop beating myself up for not feeling grateful when I write in my journal. Writing in the journal is under the personality trait category and for me that is what needs some developing.
So I’ve decided to write in a journal, but not to try to evoke the feeling of gratitude, but to document and prove to my mind that things are working out, things are better than they were, and things did get better from when I was a child to today.
I’m calling it my “how things are better” journal. Maybe not as catchy as the “Gratitude Journal” that everyone buzzes about this time of year, but definitely the way I can focus on what’s going right in my life, hopefully have more confidence in my own worth and abilities, and move toward developing gratitude as a personality trait.