Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Armchair Philosophy: Thinking about Gratitude

   I've been thinking about gratitude lately. The word showed up in a book title and I just finished reading a post-biological-holocaust dystopia. That is guaranteed to make you grateful for all the bad things that haven't happened (yet?)! Seriously, though, gratitude is, in my opinion, a very important part of a healthy balanced worldview -- but one that isn't very popular these days. Actually, it's gotten something of a bad name, I think. Many folks hear "gratitude" and remember being kids that were poked by adults with phoney smiles urging them to "Say 'thank you' to so-and-so." As adults, we've been subjected to corporate-assigned expressions of gratitude: "Thank you for shopping at XYZ." It's the lack of sincerity, spontaneity, and individual initiative that makes these grateful gestures so unsatisfying.
   Of course, there's no use trying to express what you don't feel. Feeling gratitude must be the first step: gratitude toward yourself-your life, your health, your talents, loves, and interests--your friends and family, your job, your country, even your planet.
   But, hey, it's all so darned relative, isn't it? And it's so easy to take everything we have for granted. My mom grew up during the Great Depression and she said one time that, as a result, a good meal and a hot bath could seem like heaven on earth to her, even so many years later at the age of 83. I remember seeing a cover of National Geographic magazine, when I was a teenager, after a huge flood on the Indian subcontinent. It showed an obviously very old and very poor man up to his neck in water, holding up an ancient sewing machine: he had an enormous smile on his face -- he was so grateful that the instrument of his livelihood had survived the disaster.
   Despite the admittedly hard times many are undergoing now during the recession and future uncertainties of all kinds, here we are in the Western world, with so much ease, safety, comfort, and affluence in material terms: central heating, electricity, clean water and air, indoor plumbing, and on and on. And then there are all the intangible wonders in our lives: love, health, freedom, education, companionship, knowledge, passion, and on and on as well.
   But it's a problem to feel that gratitude, to recognize the combinations of luck and hard work that end up as we would wish, to count our blessings -- without that feeling being spoiled by negativity. There may be guilt, because of our own good fortune. There may be greed, always looking for more. There may be blame, asking why not and who's responsible. There may be fear of losing what is ours.
   I'm not really sure what this is all leading up to, but I do feel a great deal of gratitude and I know that it can be a good feeling. I haven't had any comments thus far on this young blog of mine, so maybe some of you readers will respond and tell us, out of a genuine desire to feel that good feeling, what you are grateful for in their lives.

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