Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing. – David Whyte
Coincidentally, I encountered this quote shortly after hearing a lecture on happiness in which the speaker asserted that when we truly recognize our privilege, we readily feel enthusiastic and grateful about whatever we’re engaged in, work included.
It’s easy to forget to be grateful though, just as it’s natural to expect life to continue in roughly the way it always has, with ample clean air, water, food, electricity, safety, and everything else that supports us. Sometimes it’s not until we experience contrast that we recognize our privilege.
Having a period of sickness makes us appreciate our health. Smoky air makes us appreciate fresh air – and firefighters and rain. Traveling in an area with mediocre food options makes us appreciate farmers’ markets and well-stocked grocery stores. All of our adversity, including even our day-to-day micro-adversities, can become prompts to recognize what’s still working and good in our life. You can even try making a rule for yourself that every time you complain about something – even just to yourself – you follow it with a statement of gratitude.
When traffic is bad, what’s good? When there’s pain in your back, what parts of your body still work well and feel okay?
Of course, we don’t need to wait for suffering in order to pay attention to our gifts. It’s just that suffering – especially when it’s really painful – has a way of capturing our attention. The key is the paying attention, and we’re in the habit of letting our attention go to whatever’s loudest or most dramatic, like media, interpersonal conflict, and worry.
Sometimes we need to grab our attention and put it on something else. And when I say “sometimes” I mean virtually all the time – choosing intentionally what we’re putting our attention on. Might I recommend a good place to put it: on the total experience that is happening right here, right now. Your breath and the air entering and exiting your lungs. What it feels like in your body. What you’re currently engaged in. The land you’re sitting on. The beating of your heart. The sun illuminating the world. The soft clothes on your skin. The feeling of the earth’s gravity acting on you.
We want to feel spontaneous gratitude, the exalted kind that comes to us with strong emotion, rather than needing to prompt ourselves to think of something to be grateful for. But the chosen form isn’t any less real. And it has the same benefits of promoting happiness, broadening our perspective, and focusing our energy on good things.
I am grateful for you.
Peter & Everyone at the Dragontree