On Gratitude and the Trendy-ness of Thanks

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The other day, an acquaintance and friend on Facebook lamented the latest social media trend of sharing one’s gratitude publicly. “Live it!” she posted, after charging her friends and family with publicly giving thanks only because it is “politically correct” to do so. People are thankful for their spouses one day and complaining about them the next, she offered as example.

As many of you know I’ve been maintaining a gratitude practice for over a year now; mostly weekly, sometimes daily, and I try to post about it here often. This, of course, is small apples compared to some people I know — those who have made a career out of practicing gratitude — but it’s also long enough to feel as though I’ve learned a thing or two. That gratitude and irritation are not mutually exclusive emotions, and that the attempt to make them such is not necessarily a righteous one, are not the least of those.

The Man and I have been married for almost eight and a half years now, together for almost thirteen. We’re quickly approaching that point in our lives where we’ve been together longer than we’ve been apart or with someone else. And through it all, I can honestly say one of the most beautiful things about this very messy ordeal we all call marriage, is at times I’m both grateful for and irritated with him all at once. In fact, it’s the minor irritations and annoyances that often spur me to remember how much he means to me. The way I have to poke him in the arm every single night when he falls asleep on the sofa and has to be reminded to go to bed. How after almost a decade he still hasn’t figured out how to start the dishwasher, though he’s become quite adept at filling it up with dirty dishes and leaving it that way. (Seriously, he even puts the soap in.) Even the obnoxious way he “rearranges” the sheets with his feet every night to get them just so before going to sleep ultimately leaves me smiling and shaking my head at his little quirks, kvetch about it as I sometimes may.

And life’s little annoyances outside of marriage are no exception to the rule. They certainly don’t invalidate the gratitude I feel about the things and people to which they apply. Ask me what’s for dinner at six o’clock on a busy Wednesday and — even with meal plan in hand — I’ll probably sigh, but I am no less thankful for the abundance of food in our cupboards. Catch me in the middle of a technological glitch as a deadline fast approaches and you’ll probably hear choice words that could make a sailor blush, but I’m still thankful to live in an age where technology brings virtually everything the world has to offer to my fingertips.

And by the same token, nor does the gratitude practice somehow make me miraculously less human, give me the superpower to leap tall buildings breeze through life’s most frustrating moments with unrivaled grace. Being grateful, I’ve found, does not mean being without faults, though it may serve to counteract them in the sum of traits that make up my character.

Of course this has always been true. It’s simply through deliberately pausing to reflect on the little things in every day life for which I am grateful that I’ve fully realized it, and, more importantly, been able to approach frustration with it in mind. Which is, perhaps, the even greater lesson the practice has taught me; intent follows action.

The truth is, while I can’t tell you why I started my gratitude practice all those months ago, and I suspect the influence of others was not the least of those that prompted me to begin, I can tell you the reason I continue it now. It enriches my life, elevates my happiness, and has fostered many life lessons. My intentions in beginning a gratitude practice may not have been pure, but by repeated action they have become decidedly so.

The other day, in an email to the ONE Moms delegation about working with people on both sides of the political aisle, I wrote, “We have to meet them where they’re coming from,” and while the context is a bit out of place for this post, I think the premise still applies. We have to meet ourselves where we’re coming from, because where we’re at is the only starting line we have. So if it takes a pre-Thanksgiving Social Media trend to get people pausing to appreciate that for which they are thankful, I say so be it! Even if 99.9% of those people who have picked it up for this month cast the practice aside once December knocks on our door, that means 0.1% of the probably hundreds of thousands who tried it out will have picked it up for good, and thus gained a tremendously enriching perspective on life. I have a hard time finding fault in that.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Day One

IMG_3627692 Since returning from Ethiopia I’ve felt a bit like my wheels are spinning. I have a lot to say, but am unsure how to say it. I have a lot to do, but am unsure how to do it. I’m so small and the world is so big. And yet, I’m so big and the world is so small.

It wasn’t until just recently that I realized my problem, I feel as though the peak of 2012 is over. It’s hard to keep running forward when your mind is stuck at a checkpoint three miles back, thinking it was actually a finish line. It was not a finish line, but the race from here on out seems bigger than me. I trained for a 5k and was somehow accidentally entered into a marathon. While my legs are happy to keep going my mind is carrying on about how this was a huge mistake and someone should pay. My mind is a whiner.

Of course, much of this has led to thoughts about next year. Somehow it’s easier to imagine continuing in a different calendar year. (My mind is also OCD.)

I’ve thought about whether or not I’ll do a Reverb this year, and what I’d like 2013 to look like. But I’ve also noticed a change in my thinking about the future since returning, a greater awareness about the state of mind in which I enter things. As I look through pictures from the trip, I’m struck by how the tiny details, the shots of places we passed by, are what take me back. How this picture of benches at a secondary school remind me of the way the dry grass on the school grounds crunched under our feet, how the teacher in the math classroom we visited tossed the chalk to and fro between his hands as he paced the room, the smell of the tiny room they called a library, the way its shelves held technology books published in 1992, and how Liz’s scarf framed her face.

Somehow I feel as though this year’s Little Things practice helped put me in the right frame of mind leading up to the trip — leading up to all of this year’s experiences and opportunities, really — and so, as I look forward, I can’t imagine a better way to get myself in the right frame of mind for the coming holiday season and new year than a month of Little Things practice. Today, the little thing I’m grateful for, is the tiny details and somewhat obscure scenes from Ethiopia, those that take me back. Tomorrow I’ll share another little thing, and then another the day after that, and another the next. I hope you’ll come back throughout the month and share the little things you’re grateful for, too.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.