"When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude." — G.K. Chesterton
Some years ago I was working with someone who wanted to change her life. Everything, to hear her tell it, “Sucked.” She was a dentist whose work had become drudgery. Her children fought all the time. Her husband had left her. She felt fat.
Sounds awful. After listening for at least ten minutes, even I was depressed. I asked her if there were some places in her life, some people, some resources that she was grateful for, appreciative of.
The dentist said, “Probably, but can I talk more about all this stuff that sucks?”
And therein lies one of our problems as humans. Our attention gets stuck on what sucks. It’s hard to pull ourselves away.
No matter that, by now, tons of researchers have pointed out what the ancients have said for years…that gratitude is one of the royal roads to happiness, to love, to good relationships, to health and well-being (it puts a serious damper on materialism and greediness and narcissism and anxiety and depression and pain). It rests, alongside kindness as a sound prescription for a super good life.
How do we break our attention free, so we can reap the rewards? You already have heard ideas out there. You will hear a lot more before the season dedicated to thanksgiving is over. Gratitude letters, gratitude journals, reading, environmental cues (sayings, quotes on your walls), getting off our screens, walking in nature, anything which forces us to consider what is good in our lives.
What I’m celebrating today is the wise readers who have taken the time to contribute their wisdom to me on the topics of gratitude and kindness (and resilience, learning, and living well).
The first is a piece that comes from Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. My friend, Dr. Gene Sharratt, shared it.
But…first. Gene has a favorite saying, “Think a good day, plan a good day, put good into each day.” He says he has it on his desk to help him remember. Gene is also the founder of “Kindness Counts” in which he brought together hundreds of people to focus on making a kinder world. In this piece we see the interplay between kindness and gratitude. Thank you, Gene!
Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior…. We mysteriously find ourselves willing to pick up litter in the street, or let others go first in traffic….
You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too. Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable. My general-purpose go-to mystic Rumi said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and bearing the barely bearable is one of the best.
When we go from rashy and clenched to grateful, we sometimes get to note the experience of grace, in knowing that we could not have gotten ourselves from where we were stuck, in hate or self-righteousness or self-loathing (which are the same thing), to freedom. The movement of grace in our lives toward freedom is the mystery. So we simply say “Thanks.” Something had to open, something had to give, and I don’t have a clue how to get things to do that. But they did, or grace did.
[Lamott writes of the exponential flow of gratitude in our lives]:
Saying and meaning “Thanks” leads to a crazy thought: What more can I give? We take the action first, by giving—and then the insight follows, that this fills us. Sin is not the adult bookstore on the corner. It is the hard heart, the lack of generosity, and all the isms, racism and sexism and so forth. But is there a crack where a ribbon of light might get in, might sneak past all the roadblocks and piles of stones, mental and emotional and cultural?...
How can something so simple be so profound, letting others go first, in traffic or in line at Starbucks, and even if no one cares or notices? Because for the most part, people won’t care—they’re late, they haven’t heard back from their new boyfriend, or they’re fixated on the stock market. And they won’t notice that you let them go ahead of you.
They take it as their due.
But you’ll know. And it can change your whole day, which could be a way to change your whole life. There really is only today, although luckily that is also the eternal now. And maybe one person in the car in the lane next to you or in line at the bank or at your kid’s baseball game will notice your casual generosity and will be touched, lifted, encouraged—in other words, slightly changed for the better—and later will let someone else go first. And this will be quantum.
The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace.
Amen... and a quote to hold in memory. "Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation." — John Ortberg
And before you go, a second gem. It comes from Dr. Gerald Gibbons (if you lived around these parts, you’d know him as a retired surgeon and edgy kite surfer among many other achievements). We had a few back-and-forth emails about my last blog on being grateful for those people who have guided us. With his permission, here are a few of his comments which I think you’ll find valuable and interesting. From Jerry...
June, before I open and read your post want to comment on the Will Rodgers statement - and I love Will Rodgers. But you can learn much from people who may not be smarter. They are perhaps more mature, more experienced, wiser etc.
I have had many mentors in my life, several when I spent 8 summers working for a sand/gravel/asphalt/cement company in Ephrata/Moses Lake to help finance college and medical school. They were laborers, truck drivers, equipment operators, etc. I don’t know if they were smarter or not. I don’t think that really had anything to do with it.
But they were wise, hardnosed, hard living guys who taught me a lot about people, life, develop a work ethic, don’t be a whiner/victim - things that made me a better person, and I know a better physician….
I just finished it [the blog] June. Always good, thoughtful, maybe a little wishful thinking about being able to go smoothly through all stages of life. If you are living it, it’s not going to be smooth.
We had our monthly “Elder Speak” session yesterday and those in the group have faced many severe “bumps” in their lives - some of them I know you know. But they found ways to rebound - and that is essential. But that is what makes life interesting. I am up to 16 great grand kids (plus 1 in the hopper) and for me that is life’s greatest pleasure and reward — a strong, growing loving family.
I will soon be 93 and just so thankful I can still be active - …still able to ride my bike - even to Cashmere which I did earlier in the month….
June, I was thinking yesterday after we talked that I failed to mention that Will Rodgers was right on when he said one way to learn was by reading. I know from reading your Goodlife pieces and now the blog pieces that you would totally agree with that.
So I was reading last night before turning out the light (a nightly ritual) the book “Citizens of London”. It is a WWII story about London before we entered the war — 3 men who supported Britain, Gil Winant, Averell Harriman and Edward R. Murrow.
What struck me was Murrow, living in Skagit County, poor family, working summers in logging during high school and at Washington State. In London he told people he sometimes wished he had stayed home working as a lumberjack.
“There was a satisfaction about that life” and “he had never known that kind of satisfaction since”. He was a critic of unearned privilege. And he was a voracious reader.
Those statements really resonated with me because I was trying to express that yesterday when I wanted to recognize what wonderful mentors those men were for me. I looked forward to summers, going to work every day and being accepted by them. And I know they were having a good time tutoring me.
…memories that I never want to forget.
Thank you, Jerry, and all of you who take the time to read the blog and share your thoughts, appreciatively, June
According to Norman Vincent Peale the more we practice the art of thankfulness, the more we will have to be thankful for. Let's experiment with that this November.
How might we move up to the Good Life together this November by practicing, experimenting with, and gathering our collective wisdom on gratitude, kindness, and living well?