The Gift of Gratitude

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This post is dedicated to my readers—THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for spending some of your precious time with me. I also wish to express my deep thanks to my husband, Michael, and my friend and editor, Amy Sommer, without whose support this blog would be impossible. I just took a moment to read through my post from last year at this time. And the first thought that jumped to mind is that this is my second Thanksgiving blog post, and how cool is that? My second thought was that I've learned a thing or two about gratitude over the past year, and I'd like to share.

I used to think that the other side of gratitude was ingratitude—an absence of appreciation for that which we have and that which we are. And, of course, at a superficial level, this is true. When we are not feeling the thanks, we're usually wallowing in the swamps of privation and penury, which is just as miserable as it sounds. And while it is important always, but especially at this time of year, to focus our attention on what's working rather than what's broken, it's hard to do sometimes. Granted, when we are willing and able to magnify the positive and minimize the negative, that's a good day. But what about those days we can't seem to pull our heads out of Eeyore's clouds to catch a glimpse of the sun? It sucks to be ungrateful on Thanksgiving. So how can we not be, in a way that doesn't involve faking it till we're making it?

For many years, I prayed for a grateful heart. Sounds weird, I know. But maybe some of you have had the same experience: we know that objectively, our lives are good. We have good marriages, healthy kids, interesting work that pays well enough or even very well, supportive friends and time for fun. We understand intellectually that all of these well-working aspects of our lives are cause for sincere gratitude as it is so much more than so many have. But we're just not feeling it. In the middle of our chests, in our heart of hearts, there is a gaping emptiness where our gratitude should be. We're numb. Or otherwise dissatisfied.  Or just generally annoyed, resentful, and somewhat put upon. Whatever the reasons—and they all have to do with a sickness of the soul that afflicts so many of us these days – we can't feel —truly feel, not just think or know with our heads—the bone-deep, soul stretching, bring-us-to-our-knees thankful to anyone who's listening for this amazing existence of ours.

That kind of gratitude is a gift. Some of us seem to get a double helping when such life affirming emotions were handed out. But not me. I had to beg the Divine for the experience of gratitude that brought tears to my eyes and expansion to my heart. I had to ask for a long time.

Part of my issue was my extreme need for confrontation and my near-phobic avoidance of fear and grief. My go-to stance is a crouching lunge with my fists up—I'm always going to choose to fight, and opt for mad before choosing sad or scared. In my head I'm a warrior queen, and my kind doesn't hold with weeping and cowering. So I was not granted the gift of gratitude until I could learn, painfully, to accept that which I wanted to be otherwise.

I've written about acceptance before, and for some of us, it's a bitch. I struggle with the idea that acceptance equals approbation. I'm learning, slowly, that it doesn't. And here is the rub:  if we can't achieve acceptance, we can't experience gratitude. It turns out that acceptance is the other side of gratitude. Who knew?

As far as I can figure, in order to feel gratitude for the good stuff, we need to accept the aspects of our lives that aren’t so fabulous. For example, I'm floundering professionally right now, caught in a state of neither here nor there. My dog just died, and most distressing of all, my very close friend was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a fact we're all still processing.  I wish none of this were true. I want reality to be different. I'm sad and scared and uncertain and anxious and I feel utterly powerless, only ‘cause I am.  But this is my reality—along with all the blessings and abundance in my life. I'm told we need to take the good with the bad, and I know it's true.

What I didn't realize was that the gift of gratitude, the kind that beams you into the present moment at warp speed, is dependent on my level of acceptance about the parts I'm actively not grateful for. It's OK, apparently, to spurn gratitude for the bad stuff.  For me, I flat out refuse to be grateful for the "lessons" and "opportunities" that my friend's illness engenders. But I can accept it—hopefully with the same level of grace that she has, although God knows, it is hard to do.

But for today, I am profoundly grateful for the beauty and joy in my life, and I accept that all is not sweetness and light. I will continue to pray for a grateful heart, because the gratitude itself is joy in its purest form. When my heart is full of gratitude and grace, I know that I’ve also accepted the vulnerability of living and loving as a mortal being.

Happy Thanksgiving.  I wish you gratitude and grace, with a healthy helping of acceptance.  I wish you enough.