Taking the Guilt out of Gratitude

“Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms.” – Diana Butler Bass, Grateful

When I read about gratitude, I always feel guilty–like it’s something I should do.  Once I bought an orange gratitude journal from Barnes and Noble and set it by my bedside table, planning to write three things I’m thankful for each night–good plan right? 

It is possible that no item in my home has ever made me feel more ungrateful.

I would come to the end of the day, walk up to our bed rubbing my eyes, and think, “Oh, crap, now I need to feel grateful,” as I begrudgingly picked up my pen.

So, I’m starting to think about gratitude as less of an obligation and instead as something that’s bigger and smaller.

Gratitude Smaller . . . 

  • Instead of a notebook, put a gratitude rock by your bedside, maybe place it on top of your phone.  So when you reach for it in the morning, it’s a gentle reminder to start the day with gratitude.
  • Do you make to-do lists at work?  When you’re in this writing mode, quickly jot three gratitudes at the top before getting to task.  It only takes about a minute (and who doesn’t love to procrastinate?)  

Gratitude Bigger . . .

  • What if gratitude isn’t just personal, what if it becomes central in our families, institutions, organizations, and communities?  When I left my Waverly job, each retiree or person leaving received a hand-made pot from the art teacher that contained notes from students.  While presenting it, the librarian read a heartfelt note about the person’s unique gifts.  Afterward she said, “Now you’ve been potted,” with a smile.  Something about this meeting moved beyond work into something real, something so needed in our communities.  How could this inspire a similar gratitude ceremony in your family, institution, or community?
  • What if you start a class or a meeting with everyone sharing three gratitudes?  At first everyone will groan (plan on it), but reading them aloud might just be magic.  After the first day I did this with my students in November, they asked for it, and they linger at the cork-board where they are posted.  It changes the tenor of our community–and while it feels simple–I sense the group practice means something bigger.

So while gratitude does have a marketing problem–it’s not easy to make sexy or bold or important–it really is free and simple and sometimes it can even feel a little magic.  It’s not an obligation as much as it is a way to play in the world and show care.  

So, it’s not about guilt.  It’s about gratitude.  

***

Today’s gratitude dare is to buy and send inexpensive thank you cards.  So the next time you walk by that display, maybe grab a pack.  You don’t have to sign ’em–just use ’em. 😉

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