Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gratitude for its own sake

"I complained that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet."

When I was a boy my father would share that nugget with me as a gentle reminder to appreciate what I had. It's good wisdom.

This aphorism has colored my experience of gratitude, and I sense that I'm not alone. When people speak about gratitude, it seems they most often start either with a list of things that they have - a good job, loving family, some comforts and conveniences - or with a comparison to people who have less.

As this year of gratitude project rolls on I find that even though it's only February I am flat out of stuff for comparison. It's empty, anyway: I am what I am, I have what I have, I'm one insanely lucky guy (no, really: billions of people on this planet live on less than $2 a day. Think about that. Seriously - think about it for five solid minutes with a generous heart), and that's that.

One reason I haven't updated this blog in a week is that I've been wrestling with this notion of gratitude for its own sake. When I compare myself to others, I might feel lucky for a moment or two but it's equally easy just to feel guilty or helpless. What could I possibly do to make a difference for people scraping out a living in destitution in Bolivia, or Benin? Leaving aside that I know there are things I could do, there's no lasting gratitude available in the "there but for the grace of god go I" game.

Better still I think just to be grateful, because. Because why? That's right: just because. This morning I woke up early and sat in the quiet house with a strong cup of coffee and my laptop open. I stumbled across a Facebook note from someone I haven't seen in some years; in the mid-90s she touched my life briefly but deeply. Her note was simple - a short message of love to family and friends. I knew in that moment that I will go to my grave with thanks in my heart for her.

So here is my suggestion to you: remember someone this week for whom you are grateful. It's a bonus if you've been out of touch, I think. Find them - yes, you can - and call them, just to let them know they hold a place in your mind and your heart. That's all. Perhaps later that day you'll still be wide awake with that feeling of thankfulness, only now it will be for no reason at all, and that's the best reason ever.