The Art & Discipline of Gratitude

How often do you thank people each day? Rough estimate. A handful? How many times per day do you stop and feel gratitude for your life? Are you coming up with small or non-existent stats? It’s cool, I’m not judging you. Given the climate of social media and the severe shift towards encouraging a victim-mindset, I would imagine that there is not much space for gratitude for most people. If you’re chronically caught up in how offended you are by everything, how can you also feel grateful that you have the privilege to feel that way? I’ve been off of Facebook for over a month now, and it’s been rather refreshing.

Think about how social media is reconditioning us. You have a platform where you can say whatever you want from a distance, to people you may never even meet, with very little repercussion. You’re able to share your opinions without anyone asking for them, and defend your opinion without ever having to look at someone in the eye. People can gang up on each other, jump on a conversation thread just to argue, or try to shift the focus onto themselves to gain pity or admiration. And this can be the norm for every single day.

So, in this kind of environment, you can see how the focus remains solely on the self and a perpetual need to feel acknowledged, validated, and important. How can we undo this? How do we coax the pendulum to swing back towards a place of true connection to others, instead of only a one-sided virtual connection? How do we feel gratitude when we are driven to feel personally attacked by the words of others written to a screen?

Get Out of Your Own Way

Gratitude and ego do not play well. At the core of gratitude, there is first an acknowledgement of good-intent. Someone has intentionally done something to improve your human experience, and it registers in your mind. This is where you need to train yourself to pause. If you put yourself first at this junction, you’re more likely to shrug off the gesture. Example: one of my students emailed me with a reminder to grade an assignment of theirs. They had sent me the assignment via email because of an agreed-upon extension, and a couple of weeks had elapsed with their grade remaining unchanged. If I had put my ego first, I might have made an erroneous assumption that the student sees me as unorganized or thinks I had forgotten it, and I might have then responded with anger or self-importance with a I’ll get to it when I get to it kind of vibe. But, because I acknowledge that they were simply meaning to help me not lose track of their work, I saw the kindness in their prompt and thanked them for the reminder. It takes discipline to stop yourself from reacting from an egoic place, but over time it will feel more natural to see the best in people than to immediately assume the worst.

Give Thanks Freely

Gratitude journals are a thing. The fact that they’re a thing should speak volumes to us. It means that we need to remind ourselves to be grateful, and we’re out of practice with it. So, go buy the journal if that suits you. Aside from an internal dialog and scribing, also get in the habit of thanking others for little things when they are apparent to you. If you notice a kindness, point it out and thank the person for thinking of you. I often tell my three-year-old thank you for thinking of me and that was very nice of you when he offers me something, even if I don’t want it. Guess what he’s started saying when he doesn’t want to eat something I’ve prepared for him? No thank you, but that’s very nice of you Mama. It’s pretty hilarious, but I love that he’s picking up on the example I’m setting. Gratitude isn’t a given, it’s a daily exercise in mindfulness.

Take a Social Media Hiatus

It’s healthy to take a break from the noise and clutter, and also, to not feed it or add to it. Take some time away from the spotlight, away from the speakerphone. You don’t need a platform to be affluent, and you’ll find that when you do give your sage wisdom to people, it’s more meaningful when it comes from your own mouth. Even this blog post is still an attempt to reach people - but I can’t currently share it on Facebook with my account deactivated. So, consider this a public gratitude journal entry ;)

Always, Brittney