Gratitude is more important than ever
Gratitude hasn’t come easy for many of us over the past two years. Pandemics, demonstrations, wars. The general circumstances of our world seem incongruous with feelings of thanks.
Even the things we might feel grateful for are often based on avoiding negative outcomes: grateful that we didn’t die sick, grateful that we didn’t suffer the iniquity suffered by others, grateful that we didn’t have to m worried about artillery shells falling on my house.
Then my church’s adult education group read “Grateful: The Subversive Power of Giving Thanks” by Diana Butler Bass.
It’s not a habit for me to read books like this. I usually stick to literary classics, epic fantasies, or a compilation of whatever a school board is trying to ban. Self-help books always feel too agenda-driven and superficial, embellished moments of revelation awash in a sea of catchphrases.
I never would have understood this if it weren’t for the effort of our educational group guide. I consider myself a grateful person. I regularly thank people. The waiter filling my glass of water, the lady letting me pass in my grocery cart, the guy chasing me to return a glove I dropped.
I also recognize the blessings in my life and allow myself to be filled with the joy they bring me. It comes naturally to me, although I understand how difficult it can sometimes be. Admittedly, this is something that Butler Bass highlights as an essential skill to cultivate.
But it turns out that I missed a lot too. And I could do more.
I never thought much about what gratitude meant. It is something much bigger and more complex than a simple emotion. As Butler Bass explains, it involves a wide range of emotional responses from relief, appreciation, and release to surprise, wonder, or awe, joy, and joy.
It can also be dangerous. Gratitude dictated by duty or obligation can create barriers between people. At worst, it can be used as a weapon to dominate others and evoke favoritism, power, and quid pro quo deals.
Sincere gratitude can be hard to express and even harder to receive.
Gratitude in its greatest forms creates community. It challenges us to recognize the gifts in our lives – no matter how dire the circumstances – and to share them with others.
As you read each lesson on gratitude, it seemed like the pop culture references kept reinforcing them. From the last dinner table scene in “Don’t Look Up” (written by Denver’s David Sirota!) to Helen Hunt reading Jack Nicholson an epic thank you letter in “As Good as it Gets.”
But it hit me when I saw “Schindler’s List” again. From the dark and distorted definition of gratitude adopted by Amon Goeth, the commandant of the concentration camp, to Oskar Schindler despondent that he “didn’t do enough” after receiving a gold ring from the 1,100 people he he saved, the film runs the gamut of Recognition.
It ends with the real-life men and women he saved by placing stone markers on Schindler’s grave.
Gratitude can transcend life and death.
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That gratitude and the gifts to be thankful for, big or small, can be found in any circumstance and shared with others is the most important lesson I have learned. It is also the most convenient.
I may not be able to cure COVID or stop missiles from raining down on Ukrainian civilians, but I can do small acts of give and take every day. I can make a conscious effort to live a life of gratitude and extend the same courtesy to those around me.
I can’t change the world, but I can change my world. With just a little gratitude.
Mario Nicolais is a lawyer and columnist who writes about law enforcement, the justice system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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