I mean, thanks for reading this blog. Seriously. With all the media vying for our attention all the time, you have gifted me with some of your mental bandwith. I’m honored, humbled, and appreciative.
I wanted to say that right away because lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the notion of gratitude, and I realized that I’ve never thanked my readers except for those who have spoken to me around school or left some of the few comments. (Hint, hint.) That’s not right. So thank you. And now maybe I won’t appear hypocritical in the coming rant since I offered myself as Exhibit A.
I fear that as a culture we’ve lost a strong enough sense of gratitude. Sure, we still offer the mannerly thanks that come with social niceties. I’m talking about a deep sense of gratitude, one that manifests itself in the way we live our lives each day. Instead, I see more and more people who seem frustrated when things aren’t just as they want. I’m sure you can think of examples, and I know I’m guilty also. (For a hilarious take on this, you might want to watch Louis CK’s “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy.” I’d embed it, but parts push the envelope a bit, so it’s your choice. Thanks to Jonathan Martin of St. Gregory’s in Tucson for leading me to it.)
Among other reasons, the video is one of the things that prompted me to start reflecting on this topic. Recently I’ve been very grateful for certain things (read flood posts 1 and 2). I’ve witnessed a few beautiful expressions of gratitude. Sadly, I’ve seen some of just the opposite. I began to wonder if I do a good enough job of expressing my thanks to people, and to fear I take too much for granted.
I have my own theories on why our culture has become this way. We’ve become a microwave age, accustomed to instant nourishment and gratification. Much of the media of modern technology encourages narcissistic behavior; and while it raises the possibilities for amazing discourse and moving towards collective wisdom, too often it becomes polarizing vitriol. It’s as if we have to build ourselves up by knocking down others. Socially, economically, materially, whatever-ally—we feel immense pressure to keep up and assert ourselves and feel affirmed and right. And so much of it is very public.
More than anything, I think we’ve lost a sense of perspective—one that recalls how much is really quite good for many of us. It’s as if we would go to buy a bar of Ivory Soap and focus on the .56% which isn’t pure. None of us is owed perfection. And if everything were perfect, then what would we appreciate? After all, as I once heard Arlo Guthrie point out at a concert, you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.
I think gratitude is also one of the most important qualities we can try to help young people have. Anytime I engage in some sort of Portrait of the Graduate exercise, it’s always one of the first things I think of for the “Attitudes” column. Service learning, chapel, certain essential questions, social-emotional curricula—schools can address this in many ways. I also like to remind students that just through the lucky circumstances of their birth, they are in the top 5% of humankind in terms of wealth, health, security, and potential. That’s not a bad starting point. To help them maintain this advantage, their families have given them myriad opportunities.
It strikes me that people who feel a deep gratitude are happier. They are more content, more at peace. They focus less on what’s missing. They have a true sense of meaning and purpose driving their lives. It’s not that they see the glass as half full. They realize, as a student once told me, the glass is always full. Even if there is no liquid, it’s full of air, that most vital substance.
I also believe that gratitude is contagious, and I encourage you to start an epidemic. Think about all for which you are grateful. Your talents, your blessings, certainly. But, most of all, the people. And don’t stop there. Let them know. Surprise them with an expression of your gratitude. Just something small and heartfelt. A call or a note. And tell them why. Try genuine words.
Thanks much for reading. And I’ll be even more grateful if you share your thoughts.