I think gratitude runs much deeper than how we acknowledge those around us. Far too often we limit our expression of gratitude to affirmations, validations, or gifts. In some cases it’s my irksome peeve, the celebration of token events, like birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, and the like. I think that if we stop for a moment to consider the decisions we make on a daily basis, decisions about how we respond to opportunities presented to us, we’ll quickly be able to determine how much we take for granted, versus how much we’re truly grateful for.
Those that take things for granted generally assume a complacent disposition, or at worst, are easily offended when their ego is hurt. This is probably one of the most destructive forms of ingratitude. I’m convinced that we shun good opportunities more than anything else when we find reason to take offence to not being validated, or choosing to believe that someone else’s inconsideration was a deliberate swipe against us. Whether it was or wasn’t is largely irrelevant. It only becomes relevant when we choose to acknowledge it, or act on it. If we ignore it and remain focused on the opportunity at hand, the swipe will remain impotent, and we’ll afford ourselves the ability to benefit from a situation that would otherwise have been lost to our egos simply because we pandered to their ego.
Gratitude is a simple thing. For me, it’s the setting aside of the ego in favour of the best possible outcome. Yes, there are a myriad of values and norms that we subscribe to that informs what that best possible outcome should be, but the point remains true nonetheless. From a practical standpoint, I think gratitude is as simple as waking up in the morning, taking care of yourself, and being true to your convictions. Everything else follows as a natural consequence from that point.
Being true to your convictions. Too many gloss over this notion as a philosophical idealism, while completely dismissing the fact that it is our abandonment of this notion that leaves us frustrated, demotivated, and mostly unfulfilled. Being true to your convictions is what will drive you towards being fair to others, celebrating the value that they add to your life, or simply paying forward what you benefited from in the past.
Convictions, I believe, is not defined by the statements we make about what is important to us, but instead, is related to the feeling we get in our chest when we waiver from the truth. That truth, again, is not something external in scriptures or policies, but rather that innate sense of fairness or justice that we subscribe to as human beings. That’s our natural disposition that we lose sight of when we’re driven by our egos. The ego is a slippery slope because it drives a reciprocal approach to life. It’s a constant cycle of repaying in kind the assumptions we make about being short-changed by others. In other words, we’re constantly looking to get even, or get ahead relative to someone else. This totally distracts us from whether or not we’re serving those convictions we hold within us.
The question then arises as to how well acquainted are we with those convictions? I’ve often said that knowing what to stop doing is often more important than knowing what to start doing. We’re so fixated on wanting to start a new behaviour that we don’t consider what we need to stop doing instead. Hence the placebo effect. It all ties together in the end, even though it seems complicated.
If I were to hazard a description of the cycle, I believe it will go something like this. We lose sight of what is important when we become distracted by what others think of us, without being grounded in how we want to be perceived independent of their preferences, and therefore end up serving a perception that we wish to be true, rather than the underlying substance that makes us authentic. In other words, when we lose sight of who we are, we become slaves to society. When we’re slaves, we falter in serving our convictions, but those convictions become increasingly foreign to us when we lose track of what we stand for. We lose track of what we stand for when we’re focused on gaining acceptance by fulfilling the expectations of others.
At this point, we become masters at knowing what they want, but in time, grow completely oblivious to what we need, or more importantly, what we need to contribute to others. Contribution is not the same as whoring for attention. The underlying motivation determines the difference between being fulfilled and feeling raped of your dignity when things don’t pan out the way you hoped. If you were driven by purpose, failure is just a lesson on your way to being more than you were yesterday. If you were driven by the need for inclusion or acceptance, failure can easily be the destruction of your sense of self.
Gratitude therefore rests precariously in the space between serving a higher purpose, and desiring to be perceived a certain way by others. Gratitude is what is expressed when you respond without considering what’s in it for you. Gratitude is expressed when you contribute because you can, and not because you need to be seen as a contributor. Gratitude is most sincerely expressed when you do for others what they need to live a less burdensome life, even if they don’t afford you a significant role in theirs. Gratitude is not based on tokens. It is not the events you celebrate on the calendar, but instead the life you live between those events. It’s not the birthday wish or the gift for the occasion, but the unexpected gift or the simple celebration of life that matters. Gratitude is appreciating what you have when you look to those that have less, rather than bemoaning what you don’t have when you look to those that have more. Affirmation of the loved ones in your life should be a natural consequence of the bond you share, and not a specific act that needs to remind them that they’re significant.
Gratitude. It’s what we let go of when we’re distracted by trophies.