The Ground Rules of Gratitude

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It’s a well-known fact that the expression of gratitude is directly connected to mood enhancement.  But what gratitude looks like and how one goes about expressing gratitude is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts. Is it enough to wake up in the morning and say thank you to the universe and the people you meet along the way? Should you be making a list of things you’re grateful for everyday? 

“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” — Matthew 25:29

Analyzing this quote may help us to become clear about what the mindset of gratitude looks like. A couple of things are clear, when Jesus said “everyone who has” he was talking about those who recognize and appreciate life, not those who have material comforts. And similarly, the word abundance doesn’t refer only to your material comforts either, but rather your feelings of satiation and oneness with life.

But if you’re too happy with what’s happening now won’t  the universe get the idea this is all you want?  If you look at it for most of us this is how we see gratitude. It always involves comparing the present to something we had in the past or want in the future. Or comparing someone else’s situation to your own.  

Regardless, the commonplace definition of gratitude involves comparing what you have in order to determine whether or not you should feel grateful or disgruntled.

To this end, luckily if you look hard enough there’s always someone else who’s not as well off as you right? So it’s a sure-fire way to get over any temporary malaise and accomplish your daily gratitude goal. Think life is bad? Just look at that three-legged dog over there, your kid’s standardized test results which show him in the 90th percentile in critical reading, or maybe that guy from Tiger King with zero front teeth. Eventually you conclude you’re doing pretty well after all. But are you?

It doesn’t take much reflection to conclude that you needing there to be others around doing “worse” than you in order for you to feel well about your life is basically the definition of “hating”.

There’s probably a reason why Jesus didn’t say “for to everyone who has more than his neighbor will more be given”. It isn’t necessary to compare yourself to others or your past or future self in order to connect with gratitude. In fact, it’s a red flag that you’re not actually experiencing gratitude at all, you’re just giving yourself a good old- fashioned ego boost.  

Gratitude is about being tuned in to what’s around you now, the moment that we are being offered and everything in it. Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation we have for the beauty and perfection around us and within us, not for who we believe we are in the world, or our status, this is the ego. Gratitude reaches deep within us and actually allows us to flow through the world in grace and suppleness because it’s not contingent upon how people see us, anything that has previously happened, or that we hope to happen.  It’s a feeling you provoke at will.

When you are grateful, you accept and feel at one with what you’re experiencing and it is separate from a comparison. When you feel good about the food you’re eating for dinner, you shouldn’t be thinking about the unhealthy meal your roommate cooked herself tonight, or on the flipside what Oprah might be eating for dinner. You simply allow yourself to feel grateful for what THIS food is providing me NOW.

If you do happen to be thinking about other people at the time of this gratitude or other past situations. You’ll notice the only feeling that arises should be one of compassion, not feelings of pridefulness which are produced by comparison.

Take some time to lean into a better understanding of gratitude and what it really looks like so that you can take full advantage of this connection to life.

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