GIVE THANKS! NOW!
Today is Thanksgiving Day (in the US). A common tradition is taking a moment during dinner when each person reports one thing for which she is grateful. I don’t like this tradition.
Gratitude cannot be forced. When I was growing up in catholic school, the nuns, priests and lay teachers drilled the guilt of gratitude all day, everyday. We were to be thankful for everything, it seemed: for our fortune (good or bad), our health, our siblings, our parents, our school lunches (this was just plain nonsense – that food was horrible). I struggled with this message. If I dared admit I felt no gratitude for any of those things, I was condemned. The same message was delivered at home. Even society had a whole day dedicated to making me feel guilty about lacking gratitude.
Fast forward 2 decades, the onset of the Internet and Web, and the message is truly everywhere. Positive psychology gurus insist a “gratitude journal” is an essential part of daily happiness. A common social media meme is “3 great things about today” posts. Articles on news sites and blogs praise the supposed magical effects of infusing gratitude into work and life. Refusing to participate in these contrived displays of goodness will earn you a “grumpy” or “self-centered” label.
True gratitude cannot be coerced. It cannot be solicited. Gratitude isn’t delivered through shaming or condemnation. The question isn’t, “How selfish can she be that she shows no gratitude?” The question is, “What piece of her puzzle is missing that keeps her from feeling grateful?”
Gratitude is the picture that emerges when a puzzle is complete. Being grateful flows naturally from a full heart and a solid spirit. If someone isn’t delivering enough thanks, ask what pieces are missing from her puzzle. Ask why the puzzle isn’t finished and which pieces are missing. Don’t blame or shame. (Children especially don’t deserve that. They, like all of us, are beautiful works-in-progress.) Think first of what is blocking a naturally-occurring emotion that should pour out of a person’s countenance.
Sometimes the missing puzzle pieces of our gratitude picture aren’t within our reach; they must come from other people. Love, respect, compromise, understanding, support, faith – all start out coming from others. Those pieces must be given to us so we can build a full heart and a solid spirit. Many of us didn’t receive all of our pieces as children, and we still don’t get any as adult children. So we move on. We patch up the holes ourselves (sometimes with drugs, gambling, hours spent wasted on the Internet). When we must fill in spaces that should have been filled with pieces handed to us, our gratitude can’t flow.
Where my thanks flow
I am, actually, quite a thankful person. We have many hearts and many spirits, and my work/Internet life and connections are awesome. My home life is serenely balanced. I treasure friends I’ve made online and in real life. I love my college buddies who still make me laugh, an old grade school friend with whom I can still commiserate, my husband and children’s health, the friends in my town and the ones who still Skype me from half-way around the world. I’m grateful for almost insignificant things, like my yoga teacher (my first – I just started!) and my daily cup of tea. But there are hearts and spirits in me that are not complete and won’t ever be. On Thanksgiving Day, no good comes from our society’s bastardized religious message that we with missing pieces are despicable. We’ve filled them the best we could with new pieces of life to be grateful for.
So today, if you find yourself resenting a family member’s rudeness, or find yourself acting out of guilt, take a breath and think of the pieces that are missing from that puzzle. We can’t see the whole picture. Remember: we are all struggling to fill in the gaps.
Photo Credit: Ashtyn Warner on Flickr
Photo Credit: Romana Klee on Flickr