If I were to answer the question for what am I grateful, straight away I would say:
- The possibility for meaningful relationships
- The opportunity to think deeply about things
- The ability to laugh at the things thought deeply about
- An appreciation of uncertainty and change
On reflection, I want to propose a somewhat contrarian view of gratitude and some of the mindlessness that lurks beneath our attitudes towards the things that we profess to be thankful for.
When we express our gratitude, we usually do so out of care for others and with an eye to increasing our self-awareness, but we often express it in contrast to those deemed less fortunate. I've done much work that shows out how social comparisons can be condescending and mindless, so here I'll just make two points. First, life only consists of moments and the moment being lived by the seemingly less fortunate may be no less full then our own. Consider this story:
A man beside himself goes to see his rabbi because he lives in a very small house, his in-laws are moving in and he thinks he just can't take it. The rabbi tells him to get a dog. He does and now feels even more crowded. He returns to the rabbi, who tells him to get two cats. He does, but returns to the rabbi to complain about even tighter quarters. The cycle continues until he has his in laws and seven animals in the house. Ready to pull his hair out, he goes one last time to the rabbi who tells him, "Okay, get rid of all the animals." A week later he comes back and tells the rabbi how happy he is that he and his in-laws have their home back.
Our felt experience tends to be in contrast to our own previous felt experience and not necessarily in comparison to others.
When we are grateful that we are better off then someone else, we are setting ourselves up for future misery should their problem become ours. Each time we think, "Thank goodness I don't have to deal with 'that,'" we become more entrenched in the belief that the problem is unsolvable and increase the chances of feeling helpless should it become ours.
In a not dissimilar vein, gratitude may work against striving. When we tell ourselves things could have been worse, we may be working against trying to make them better. All in all, gratitude relies on evaluative judgements. Events in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. Rather, as Shakespeare said, thinking makes it so.
I feel I live a life full of good fortune to which all are equally entitled. I try not to judge myself nor others, considering events as neither positive nor negative, but simply as experiences to be fully lived. Thus, I believe that while being grateful is better than being ungrateful and entitled, I prefer the simpler state of just being.
This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to email@example.com.