Gratitude is a strange, but necessary thing.
On one hand, gratitude poses a challenge. Because there’s a fine line between admitting circumstances beyond control played out favorably and discounting actual effort put into creating favorable circumstances.
Practicing gratitude is not the same thing as self-sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be some pompous pretend show.
“I’m feeling so blessed by God right now for all these things He provided for me.” (While casually alluding to the lifestyle you deliberately set out to create.)
That’s not gratitude in my book. It’s deceitfully ascribing the results of your own choices to some power outside yourself.
Not to say that we haven’t each been blessed with unique gifts and talents to create better circumstances – and free will to choose how to apply our gifts and talents in the world.
But I always feel a phony any time I catch myself pretending I feel blessed for the results of using my talents. Because what I feel in those moments is not gratitude – it’s pride.
Which is why gratitude can be such a complicated emotion and action. If for no other reason than that I like to overcomplicate things.
Gratitude As Seeking Joy
On the other hand, I often like to think about the object of gratitude. What am I grateful for? When I boil it down, this “object” of gratitude is more or less the margin between an idyllic present and worst case scenario.
Even if present circumstances aren’t perfect, it’s possible to idealize them. And that’s where gratitude really shines. Especially contrasted against how much worse things could be. Because inevitably, things could always be much, much worse than they are.
It’s almost as if gratitude is the practice of deliberate excavation of joy from the details of our life – imperfect as they may be.
We practice gratitude when we deliberately seek joy over other possible attitudes.
Which is the beauty of it. That gratitude is a choice, not a given.
Things I’m Grateful For
It’s the day before 2021 Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I get to spend the whole day cooking, feasting, and fellowshipping with family.
I have not done this in years. For the past decade, I lived nearly a 1,000 miles away, and rarely came home for Thanksgiving. Now that I live close again, it would seem like a wasted opportunity not to take advantage of proximity to family.
I’m grateful for the maturity and wisdom that comes from reflection on past experience.
I’m also grateful for the agency to redirect my time, resources and attention as I navigate through different eras of life, and my priorities shift.
I imagine joy would be such a difficult state to achieve in the absence of choice. I’m grateful for the power to choose, for free will, and for the cognitive ability to evaluate different possible choices, then act out those choices.
I’m also grateful for people. It would surely be a lonely, miserable existence without others in our lives to accompany us on our journey through time. How diminished joy would be without others to share in its revelations.
I’m grateful for family. For Friends. For freedom. Good business. Life. Health. And a long list of other things.