Monday, November 3, 2008

Practicing Gratitude

My children attend a Friends School and I look forward to the weekly Friends Meeting that I am invited to attend with them. We sit in silence (sort of) on Monday mornings and practice hearing our own inner voice and the quiet around us. Each month the school offers a theme to ground our thinking and November's theme is gratitude. After chewing on the concept for a few silent minutes this moment, I began to really think about what a complicated concept gratitude can be. It is a little different from what we are glad about, I think, because in funny ways we can be grateful for life's losses and dark experiences, for the silver linings and wisdom that comes from hard times; still, we don't want the hard times, wouldn't wish for them or look forward to the next tough turn our life takes. Gratitude breeds wisdom, or vice versa, I think. All the happiness research seems to indicate that gratitude is also a cognitive pattern -- once we begin optimistic self-talk we can maintain a brighter outlook in general. I am looking for strategies to help my family -- a family a bit pulled toward emphasizing injustice, large and small, personal and global -- practice gratitude without it being too contrived. I'm curious if others have family traditions or rituals that help members notice and articulate appreciation.

I haven't found any great web sites, but am putting Happy-Go-Lucky on my netflix list.

On Beliefnet, the author makes an interesting point about not teaching "reverse envy" ("you should be thankful that you have food when other people are starving") which might cultivate guilt over gratitude -- gratitude is somehow more internal and intrinsic to the person and experience, not relative and interpersonal.


Kathleen said...

After struggling to integrate some daily gratitude, we've hit on a routine that really works for us. After our bedtime prayers - the ones I said every night as a child, which my mom made up just for me, and which center around thanking God for our family, friends, health, and happiness - we each say what we are thankful for. Tessa (age 3.5) often rambles on, expressing her thanks for everything her eyes land on, from her baby brother to the mirror in her room, but she's genuinely grateful for these things. She also sweetly speaks for her little brother (age 9 mo.), usually announcing that he is thankful, most of all, for milk. Ari and I get to express and model gratitude - tonight we counted everything from the health of our children to Barack Obama's bravery in running for president. I love the combination of the transcendent and the mundane - the whole scope of what we are grateful for.

pippamaus said...

Let me express gratitude that I stumbled upon this blog! I've been browsing the archived posts and deduced that you must be the same woman I knew when I lived in Maine way back when my little one was first born. Glad to see you are still an active and engaged. Don't know if you'll remember me and Soren, but would love to hear from you if you do.