Thursday, November 28, 2013


Gratitude is a good thing.  We all ought to be grateful, especially today, on Thanksgiving, when gratitude is positively a patriotic obligation.

Gratitude is wonderful when it is spontaneous and comes from within.  Gratitude is difficult when people tell you, "You ought to be grateful because you have X," or "You ought to be grateful because you don't have Y," or, more bluntly, "How dare you complain when you have so much, you ungrateful narcissist?"

We can cultivate gratitude, just as we can cultivate mindfulness and empathy and all the other positive qualities and emotions and states of mind that will make us happier, kinder, better people.  We can, but all too often, we don't.

I have a relative who is refusing to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.  She says she doesn't have much to be grateful for this year.  I don't know what to say to her, because from where she sits, I have more to be grateful for than she does.  From where I sit, too.  So how do I say to someone who has more problems than I do, yes, you do have things to be grateful for.  I can't.  It would sound preachy.  She has preached to me in the past about how ungrateful I am because I complained about this or that, and I didn't like it, so I am not going to do it to her.

I don't know how you inspire someone else to be grateful.  It isn't by telling them, "You ought to be grateful."  When people say that to me, I want to say fuck off, but instead smile tightly and try to say something that isn't too passive aggressive.  I want to be grateful.  I try to be grateful.  Most days, I am grateful, including, thankfully, today.  But when I am not feeling grateful, being preached at doesn't help.  It generally makes my state of mind much worse.  So I am leaving my sad, resentful kinswoman alone, because I don't want to make her feel worse, but don't know how to make her feel better.

Make her feel better.  That's the thing.  Not only can you not make someone else feel better or worse or any way, but other people can't make you feel a certain way.  People do things, or things just happen, and then we react with one emotion or another.  We can choose how to react.  Often, the initial reaction is involuntary, a flash of annoyance or fear or pleasure, but once that flash passes, we can choose whether we want to give in to that emotion, or do something to try to counteract it.  From Buddhism to Positive Psychology, there are a variety of tools and behaviors we can use to help us control negative emotions, but the motivation has to come from within.  It can be inspired from without, but whatever the external stimulus is, it needs to touch a nerve inside the person, and inspire him or her to want to make a change.  Same thing with losing weight, or exercising, or getting sober.  If the person in question doesn't want to do it, you can't bully or cajole or guilt them into wanting to.

So today, what I am grateful for is the desire to be grateful, to be healthy, to be sober, to be empathetic and kind rather than angry and resentful.  That is really a gift worthy of gratitude.

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