Thoughts on Gratitude

This is the time of year when everyone talks about gratitude. What are we grateful for? How do we teach our children gratitude? How can we be more grateful for all we have?

Although I have not had a great loss in my life since I was young, I have had friends with losses who say with all sincerity and understanding, Appreciate what you have, live every moment like it’s your last, be thankful for your husband, kids etc. Why is it that we can’t fully follow this advice that know is so right? Is it because we can’t know loss until we experience it? Without the loss staring us in the face, it’s hard to know what it’s like.

I believe my life has been blessed. I have a loving husband, two wonderful, successful and happy children, and now an amazingly adorable grandson. I see my children often considering they live several hours away, we have wonderfully happy, connected relationships. I have a beautiful home on a beautiful hill with many great friends in a great community.

Despite all this, I find it comes easier to gripe and complain than it does to be immersed in gratitude. Consciously I can give thanks for my abundance, but unconsciously I find myself wondering what if…, if only…, I wish I had…wouldn’t I be happier if…. Is it who I am—my temperament?

I read an article once describing research findings on two basic types of people: those who are happy with, or at least accepting of, the choices they make and where they are in life and others who always wonder what if and gaze longingly at the greener grass on the other side of the fence. It struck me that I am in the latter category.

On one hand I believe that living in that If only… mindset keeps me free of complacency and pushes me to move forward. On the other hand, it gets tiring to always be wishing for something I don’t have—to never be completely satisfied. Does this mean I don’t accept myself, my choices, my life, even when I know how lucky I am?

I am generally quite happy and laugh often, but something always seems to nag, You haven’t done quite enough. I would be the first to say this is based on a belief I took in about myself as a child from a father who held very high expectations. Was this his temperament or learned from his parents?

So those of you for whom gratitude comes easily and naturally—count your blessings. Oh right, you do that anyway. And for those of us who are wishing for things to be different, I ask us these questions:

  • What do you really want to be different?
  • What do you think you would have if those things were different?
  • What are you afraid of if you were to relax into what you do have and let go of what you want to be different?

Mindfulness is the art of being present—in the moment. For many of us, we need to practice this daily; it doesn’t come naturally. Not just at this time of year.

So to those of us who tend towards If only thinking, the conscious practice of acceptance and gratitude is important. But we also need to give ourselves a break and stop thinking we should be different, better, happier, more grateful. We are what we are whether from temperament or learning. Maybe if we start with that, it will be easier to see the greening of the grass on our side of the fence.