After the year we’ve had, the time we’re currently having, you want me to think about what I’m grateful for? Seriously?
Seriously. It took me a long time to learn this, but you don’t have to be happy to be grateful. In fact, gratitude actually is one of the quickest, surest, longest-lasting ways to find your happiness and maintain your equilibrium when they’ve gone missing.
Cicero, a leader who lived in Rome 2000 years ago thought that gratitude is so important, it’s actually the virtue that gives rise to all other virtues. Contemporary teacher Inyanla Vanzant says that gratitude is so basic we don’t have to have anything or do anything in order to be grateful, because gratitude is a state of being.
Gratitude is also key to our resilience. Singer Lena Horne reminded us, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. Carry it by the comfortable handles of gratitude for what is positive and that it’s not worse, rather than the uncomfortable edges of bitterness for the negatives and that it is not better.”
Our gratitude connects us in deep and solid ways. Michelle Obama said that when she was a child, “We learned about gratitude and humility—that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our schools clean…and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.” Gratitude can be the birthplace of our resilience and trustworthy solidarity with others.
Gratitude can help us find and rest in a sense of assurance, a deep sense of peace and of being alright. Toni Morrison said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.” The world’s beauty can sustain us through the most chaotic and uncertain of times.
Importantly, gratitude won’t fool us into not noticing injustice; it won’t make us quiet about unfairness, and it won’t cause us to turn away from the world. Gratitude does however put us in touch with our joy and confidence. It helps us remain open to new possibilities, sometimes in the midst of the most dire moments. Even then gratitude can put us directly in touch with our trust, love and hope. And when these things fuel our action, we’re able to trust each other, and the plans we make, and actions we take to help make the world more inclusive and fair.
Here’s something more. Gratitude helps us deeply rest in a source that’s greater than ourself. For some this is God, for others, it’s the ocean of love at the heart of life. However we each understand this, when we simply say “thank you” from our heart we’re able to rest in a source of spaciousness and grace, and for a time we get to put our burdens down. When we’ve rested this deeply, we find renewal and we’re able to keep on loving, keep on co-creating the world as we envision it can be.
Photograph by Priscilla DuPreez, Unsplash.com . Used with permission.