Because it did seem like a platitude, at first. What did I have to be grateful for? I had a chronic brain disorder. My life was totally messed up. I was broke, in debt. I lived in a place where the long dark nights of winter were accompanied by below-zero temps. I had a past full of awful and a future full of nothing much. People treated me terribly and my justified resentments would fill a book longer than the Bible.
So, yeah, I wasn’t actively doing things to submarine my own health any more. I’d found a program full of intelligent strategies for recovery and some wise people who were willing to occasionally sit down and help me chew through some tough thought processes.
But really, my life was still colossally unsatisfactory. I didn’t get any of the stuff I wanted, couldn’t begin to see how it would ever happen. I was still surrounded by the toxic detritus of my own past. Gratitude, schmatitude.
Keep your Mary Sunshine “affirmations” and your “there but for the grace” crap. Why should I celebrate settling for so much less than I want and I believe I’m owed, somehow, by life? Why, when I have so many legitimate, fully justified grievances against the injustices perpetrated on me by a dysfunctional culture and a crazy consumerist society, should I celebrate something as inconsequential as a sunrise? What does it get me?
Shouldn’t I, rather, be focusing on all the wrongs that need righting? Immerse myself in the consciousness of What Must Be Changed, especially the attitudes and actions of those in power and all those Institutional Others?
Turns out, it gets me a lot, actually.
Being thankful for the sunrise, that is.
Call it neurodynamic conditioning or spiritual yoga, whatever floats your boat. It’s a form of rehab for the brain recovering from sick, negative thinking. Consciously creating positive pathways and associations with sensations and experiences, teaches your brain to do this, and gives it the practice needed to keep doing it.
And that creates a whole constellation of secondary physiological and psychological benefits. When your brain uses positive associational pathways, ‘good feeling’ thought processes, it activates the associated receptors and triggers the limbic system to respond with that balance of chemicals- less stress hormone, more relaxation.
It’s a workout for your brain, your spirit, your soul.
Just like workouts for your body, different people will find different things easier to do and keep doing, more enjoyable, more effective, etc. There’s no one right way to “do gratitude,” and even seeking out and trying different techniques is a helpful process. Some people keep a “gratitude journal.” Some use gratitude-focused meditations or affirmations.
I know one person who keeps a gratitude calendar. She jots down something she feels grateful about, and then puts a reminder on the calendar a week out, a month out, a year out. Sometimes with a note to call the person who shared the experience with her and thank them or remember the awesomeness of it, so they can both ping the gratitude muscles again.
Another person I know puts little reminders in their “Daily Reflections” reading book- a ticket stub, a photo, a cartoon, a newspaper clipping with a marginal note.
I have a combo system, myself. In the morning, I use a gratitude meditation (I have a bunch, and I’m learning to make up new ones as I go.) At night, I jot down three things from during the day that are gratitude-worthy, and why and how I felt that way. And one cool sensory experience to double down on, anything from a wonderful-tasting item at lunch to a spectacularly beautiful skyscape on the sunset horizon.
I’m developing the attitude.
And for that, I am so very grateful.
Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we had a national gratitude holiday? Oh, wait…