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This month of Thanksgiving I have been preoccupied with gratitude. I even put "Gratitude is my Attitude" on my sign in the little bar we have in the living room. Cliche, I know. But I truly am feeling it right now.
Thankfulness and appreciation... those are words that come to mind when I think of gratitude. Loving what you have and not longing for anything to be different.
As a child, I was taught to be grateful for God's forgiveness. To be grateful that Jesus gave his life for us. As well-meaning as these religious teachings were, I once thought of gratitude as a guilt-driven emotion. Gratitude was a debt you owed for something you never asked anyone to do for you. You had to feel grateful, or you were a spoiled little brat. It was years before I understood gratitude and gratefulness fully. Probably because I simply had never felt it. Or at least the version of gratitude I was taught, wasn't what I consider true gratitude today.
I was taught "it is better to give than to receive" another oxymoron since as a child, it always seems better to receive. Once again, the guilt of not actually feeling that way gave the gratitude I felt when I did receive a tainted feel to it.
As a young adult, I sometimes found myself in situations where people thought I was ungrateful for something they had done for me. Often, I didn't understand why. I was grateful (in the actual sense of the word) and I expressed my gratitude by saying thank you, but at that time in my life, I would attract people who didn't think that was enough. I wasn't enough. I was apparently supposed to exclaim it further, and possibly also read their minds, that would have been best. So once again, guilt was associated with thankfulness. Two very clashing emotions, that normally don't have anything to do with each other. But the association made it very hard for me to understand and value the true meaning of gratitude.
When I first heard of Oprah's Gratitude Journal back in the 90's, I was skeptical. I'm pretty sure it was because my then version of gratitude was something forced upon me and not something I knew how to feel. It was years before I felt called to keep one myself.
It wasn't until the amazing Genevieve Davis introduced the gratitude journal in her book "Becoming Magic" that I started getting a feel for the true meaning of gratitude. It helped that she mentioned you could substitute the gratitude journal for a "how wonderful" or "I'm so happy" -journal. When I put those words in front of things I was genuinely grateful for, a flush of true gratitude would rush over me. I finally understood gratitude. Not by having it explained. Not by words, but by feeling it deep into my soul.
She also made a big deal of not writing down things you think you should feel grateful for, but aren't. This was exactly my block around gratitude since it had been so heavily associated with feeling guilty.
My understanding of gratitude is now light and airy but deep and warm at the same time. It is not a state of mind, it is an emotion. And for me, it's a very physical one. I keep my gratitude journal to this day. When I write a sentence in it, I sit and feel the gratitude for that thing. I find that focusing upon things you are happy about or grateful for in your life is the most potent and powerful boost you can give your life.
What are you grateful for?