Gratitude is a deeply personal experience. It is not only a state or feeling that I get to experience privately, it is also entirely up to me how I choose to express it.
Growing up, I was taught and encouraged to be polite and kind to others. Saying thank you while interacting with others. I do not know whether this was an expression of gratitude or more likely a form of good manners. Social conditioning that enables me to function more effectively within society with other people. It sounds now like being nice to others may be the strategic thing to do.
Going through this year of pandemic, I have expressed words of gratitude to front-line essential service workers through many of my blog reflections. They continue to put themselves in higher health risk situations, so that I can have groceries, utilities and other services. However my expression of gratitude towards them may not be grounded. Upon reflection, I suspect that most are not choosing to make sacrifices for the greater good or some patriotic pride but rather that their life circumstances are such that they have no choice. They take higher risk roles, ones that I would not do myself, to be able to survive financially. So it does not really add up to me anymore when I thank them for their sacrifices.
Also this year, there have been countless displays of gratitude for the sake of displaying gratitude by large corporations. The TV advertisements, billboards and social media ads from every bank, car brand, retailer and more. Every time I saw a large corporation spending money to thank those in less than ideal circumstances, I couldn’t help but think that the money would have been better spent helping those people directly. A different expression of gratitude could be for large corporations to reallocate their advertising budgets to buy PPE, to increase wages or to invest in organizations providing health care, education and childcare services. To be clear, my small business, which provides advertising technology, has benefited from large corporations advertising their gratitude this year and would be impacted if they actually followed my advice.
A reflection on gratitude is also a reflection on values. What I feel gratitude towards is what I also value. If my gratitude is towards my car, house, clothes, status and money, that is what I likely value. If my gratitude is towards the connections to people that I enjoy, it is those connections that I likely value.
A few years ago, I kept a gratitude journal. Every morning, I wrote one sentence in it for nearly one year about something or someone that I felt gratitude towards.
I really enjoyed the practice of reflecting daily however now realize that it was really a practice of appreciation.
I cannot force gratitude. I cannot practice gratitude. I can practice appreciation. And while appreciation is valuable, I feel it is different from gratitude.
I believe that much of my experience of gratitude is unconscious. Gratitude is more accidental than intentional. It is a byproduct of presence, awareness and perspective.
Presence to be with this moment, not only with my body but with my mind and heart. Awareness to pay attention to what is happening in this moment. Perspective to understand the significance of this moment.
The experience of presence, awareness and perspective together is rare and when it happens, it is absolutely magical. Be it enjoying a meal with my parents and loving them for the imperfect human beings that they are. Having a conversation with my sister and feeling the deep soulful connection that we share. Talking with my team and realizing that all of them have chosen to tolerate me, when I know that they could work anywhere they wanted to. While in meditation or yoga practice, remembering that because of my teachers, and my teacher’s teachers, I am having this experience.
In all of these experiences, I feel as though I have temporarily zoomed out and now have a bird’s eye view of myself in this moment.
From that place, gratitude unconsciously arises within myself. I cannot describe the feeling in words, except to share that I feel it. I cannot force it or prompt it. It surfaces naturally, as a byproduct of being present with this moment, cultivating the skill of awareness and having the perspective of its significance.
Once I learn to really see this moment, and all of its beauty, I feel a rush of emotion that I call gratitude. This is an experience of gratitude in its most raw form, untainted, unfiltered and unprompted, that I know keeps me grounded, healthy and most of all, connected.