Gratitude is everything.
The happiest people I know are grateful. The least happy people I know are ungrateful. Gratitude takes a sad person and gives them joy. Ingratitude takes a happy person and makes them miserable.
Gratitude is what allows someone to endure all sorts of injustice and hardship and emerge stronger and more resilient instead of broken and cynical. It’s been important enough in my life that I did an entire month on it a few years back. I’ve done podcast episodes about it as well.
A lack of gratitude is what causes people who have everything to need more and more and more. This creates the cycle of suffering that is greed and self-absorption. A lack of gratitude is what allows people with more than enough to be miserable and angry and to seek to inflict their suffering on others.
I won’t say gratitude can fix everything, but it can certainly make everything a little better.
It is the root of everything good for us.
In many ways, gratitude is at the heart of mindfulness as it allows us to cultivate a deep appreciation and love for the very simple act of being in the moment, and for all the simple things the moment offers.
Let’s look at a few less-than-obvious places we can be grateful.
Gratitude for Existing
The most basic place for gratitude is in the very fact that we exist at all.
This gets weird when you think about it too much.
The only reason we can even think about being grateful for anything at all is because we exist. This is the first place for gratitude.
I often think that no matter what is happening around me, at least I am here to experience it. This is especially noticeable when death is near me. Either someone I love has passed away or I am helping someone walk through the death of someone they love. Those moments suck, but at least we are there to witness them at all.
The alternative to all of this is nothing.
I often hear people say they would rather experience nothing than what they are experiencing at the moment, but there is even an expression of awareness in this statement. I get it, nothingness seems nice sometimes. But when we say that we are, in some way envisioning ourselves experiencing that nothingness. We see ourselves existing in the nothingness, which makes no sense at all.
Whatever is happening, we have been gifted an awareness to experience it. At the very least, we have this wide beam of consciousness, experiencing this world.
That is ground for gratitude.
Gratitude for the Body
It is also a little weird that we have a body when you think about it.
I can make my hands and fingers move as I need them to and I can make my feet go where I want them to and all that, but I don’t really know how I do this.
I just do.
As a matter of fact, if I think about it too much I start to make mistakes. It’s better when we let things go without being too involved.
My heart that does its job with no help from me and my lungs. My brain and all these other systems and organs do their jobs with no input from me at all. I can’t even make them stop doing their job without some sort of radical external intervention. One that would really be harmful to my continued existence.
So some of this stuff happens with my control (sort of) and some without my control, and I call all of it my body and I think it is me, so I am rarely grateful for it.
It gets me up and moving every day. It performs this task reasonably well, but I don’t give it much regard. Because of this, I have done some pretty rough things to my body over the years. I have some difficult consequences as a result, but it keeps going. It not only keeps going since I have started treating it well by not drinking, exercising, cutting out sugar and getting sleep. It actually seems to be improving and healing.
On top of all that, it gives me a place to house this weird thing called consciousness in the first place. I can’t say whether or not having a body is always necessary to having consciousness, but I can say it is as far as my very limited experience goes.
It’s really amazing.
Gratitude for Pain
We need pain in life.
Pain is a universal experience for the most part, something we can all understand.
It helps us connect to other humans if we let it and it can give us a sense of resonance with all life. It is why we have empathy and understanding for suffering we may not even have a reference point for, and why we seek to move toward and help others.
Physical pain is a warning light, our body telling us something is wrong and that it needs care.
The pain of your hand on a hot stove is better than a life-endangering injury. Breaking your arm doing daredevil stunts causes enough pain that you are less likely to lose your whole life on something even more foolish.
There are people who do not feel pain, and many do not make it out of childhood due to the lack of lessons that pain teaches. Pain is there to keep us alive, to help us learn how to navigate through this world. A child crying with a busted nose is also a child learning about running through the house with a bucket on their head.
But what about pain that cannot be fixed, chronic pain that is not serving the function of warning or teaching us?
There is good here too, as it provides us an opportunity to lean into something unpleasant, to sit with things not being as we would prefer them to be. There can be a deep peace in accepting our experience as it is, in realizing that we are more than the experience of our body and thoughts.
It’s not always easy, but it’s there.
Gratitude for Responsibilities
I shirked and shied away from responsibility for a vast majority of my life.
I called it different things like laziness and I couched it behind different pale ideologies like resisting the capitalistic desire to control my life through work or not buying into the western concept that our lives should be regimented into a functional grind. I suppose I believed these things at the time, but my dodging responsibility really rooted in fear, which is often fueled by selfishness.
I prized what I wanted and how I wanted to spend my time above all else, thinking this would make me happy. I was unhappy, and no matter how much more time I shoveled into doing my own thing, the less happy I became.
Today, responsibilities seem to govern my life.
Between running an office, a blog, trying to get other projects off the ground, having a family and trying to live a healthy life and be a good dad and husband and continue to grow as a human being, I don’t have a lot of time for what I want.
And I have never been happier.
My life isn’t about me anymore, and I am doing my part for my family, my community and my society, and there is something inside of us that needs to live this way. I am grateful to responsibility for teaching me this.
Responsibility is a gift if we are grateful for it, a curse if we are not. It is there either way, we get to choose how we see it.
Gratitude for Everyone Who Came Before
We live pretty easy lives these days.
We drive where we need to go, we have safe food at our fingertips, we can talk to people all over the world. I don’t even have to physically walk into my bank anymore unless there’s a problem, like someone stealing my debit number and buying a bunch of Walmart gift cards and cigarettes in New Jersey. Even that was fixed in minutes.
We have all these luxuries and conveniences because of the nearly endless line of other human beings that came before us.
There is this chain of people, stretching back into the distant, distant past, and they endured untold hardship and suffering as they played their part in this great drama called history. A vast majority of them came and went without so much as a mention in our history books and no one remembers them.
Your chain created you through millions and millions of tiny iterations and nuances, and here you are. Some were helpful, some not so much, but they all contributed to you being alive at all, and they all did so in circumstances quite different from our own.
There is a beauty in this chain and in the history of all of us, a beauty in how, though we are one in billions, we are a necessary part in the chain for everyone who comes after us.
I find a deep gratitude for everyone who came before and paved the way for all of this, and try to do my part for everyone who comes after.
- Can you see yourself in this great play?
- Can you be grateful to the ancestors who allowed you to be here?
Gratitude for Toddler You
Being a human is hard, the process of becoming one seems to be even harder.
I look at babies and little kids, and I am amazed by everything they have to do on this path of becoming a full human being and doing all the full being things. Their hands don’t work correctly, their legs are all wobbly and clunky. They bite their own fingers when they eat too fast and their heads hit everything. If you are smart enough and coordinated enough to be reading this, it took a lot to get where you are.
Sometimes we need to stop and offer gratitude to our younger selves for navigating all the hardship and difficult learning required to get us where we are.
All the skinned knees and banged heads and bit fingers and smashed toes, not to mention the stress and struggle of learning how to talk and where to poop. It’s difficult to figure out how all these weird laws of physics work. It’s difficult to fit into this social world with all of its unstated rules and its irrational demands on our natural way of doing things. We owe our toddler selves a debt of gratitude for getting through it to become the people we are today.
You had to work hard to get where you are, and the youngest versions of you had to do a lot of the heaviest lifting.
Think about younger you, thank them.
Cut them some slack if you need to.
Cut the kids around you a little slack.
Help them learn to live on this planet.
Gratitude for Teenage You
Being a teenager sucks, and it was probably the worst time of my life.
I was miserable, there was something wrong with me, and I struggled. I was annoying and full of it, self-centered, difficult and emotional.
I have to work to have gratitude toward that kid for getting through that time, because I am often so ashamed of him and how he acted so much of the time.
I just dislike who I was.
But, I get it. I don’t think anyone knew how hard I struggled because I tried to mask it behind rebellion and being too cool for things. I was deeply depressed and trying to deal with some things that I had no frame of reference for.
I did the best I could with what I had, unfortunately, that best just wasn’t very good.
I was lucky, things got better over time. I found some good friends, I tried to make some changes, but I had already developed some habits and ways of existing that were difficult to break. I suppose I owe 20-something me some gratitude for fighting those battles.
It can be difficult to even forgive ourselves for how we behave during difficult times in our life, much less have gratitude to our younger selves for surviving and getting through them.
These days, I am grateful to teenage me for doing what he needed to do to get through those years. It wasn’t graceful or skillful or even competent, but I’m here right now so he must have done an okay job.
- Where do you need to offer yourself gratitude?
- Is there a part of yourself or your life that you are alienating out of resentment?
- Is there room for gratitude instead of anger and hurt?
Gratitude for Unintentional Teachers
A majority of the best things that have happened to me have not been by my own doing.
I often say that we have no business getting what we want because we don’t know what is best for us. We really have no business classifying someone as an enemy because we really don’t know what will come out of the relationship with them.
Instead of calling people enemies, maybe we can see them as oppositional forces or unintentional teachers.
Enemies are useful because they help us learn things about ourselves and force us to develop new ideas and strategies for being alive and dealing with difficulties. Just because this is not their intent does not mean that we cannot be grateful to them for the help in growing.
I can see a great number of cool things in my life that only happened because someone else’s actions jarred me into making a change or trying something new.
Sometimes we need someone to betray us to help us see that we are accepting mediocrity from our relationships. Sometimes we need someone else’s unhealthiness to become so unbearable that we are willing to leave our comfort zone and do something new.
A story is really only as good as its antagonist because it is the antagonist that sparks everything.
Looking back, I can see where the people I identified as villains and enemies have been my greatest teachers and have forced me into many new things that turned out to be good. In this respect, I am indebted to them.
- Who has sharpened you in your life?
- Can you be grateful to them for what you learned whether they meant to help you or not?
Remember, gratitude is everything.
It shifts our attention away from the things we are not happy with, over to the things that are going right.
There are always more things going right than wrong, starting with the fact that we are alive to witness any of this in the first place. That is cool.
I am grateful for my life, for my wife, my family, and my body, even though it hurts most of the time. I am grateful for the sun, the wind, the rain and the amazing storms we have out this way. I am grateful that there is something instead of nothing.
Lastly, I am grateful to have people who read these things I write, thank you.