Toda Raba. One of few Hebrew phrases every Hebrew-as-a-second-language person can say – even Anglo ulpan dropouts like ani. (Actually, I like to throw around Toda L’cha and Toda Lach a lot – because I trained myself to remember the different masculine and feminine forms of “Thanks to you” in Hebrew, and I like to delude myself into thinking my “command” of the language is more advanced because of it).
I was asked to participate in something called Tweetsgiving this week, which is a 48-hour event (coinciding with the American holiday of Thanksgiving) orchestrated by a U.S. nonprofit organization called Epic Change. People are encouraged to blog, tweet and share thoughts of gratitude; and through grants and donations, a technology lab will be built at a primary school in Tanzania, Africa. Not too shabby. OK, for starters I’m grateful that I wasn’t educated in Tanzania, Africa.
Sorry, that was inappropriate.
What do I know about gratitude? A few things, I think. I’ve heard it said that it’s impossible to feel both gratitude and fear at the same time. So, if you are afraid about something, focus on something you’re grateful for. As long as you keep your thoughts directed towards that thing or person, you will not feel afraid at that moment. Try it.
I’ve also heard about an exercise called a Gratitude List. If you are feeling depressed, lonely, or angry about something or someone, and you would like to turn that around into a positive feeling – try writing out a list of the things you are grateful for at that moment. Even though I’ve heard many times from people that this exercise really works for them, it’s not part of my regular spiritual practice. I think it’s because I have all these preconceived, been-there-done-that notions about it. Like, Oh, geez – I know what I’m gonna write: I’m grateful for being alive, for my family, for being sober, for this, for that; it’s the same things I’m always grateful for – what’s the point? Like, because I wrote a list in the past, the gratitude has already been felt, and making a new list would just be redundant. Or, maybe it’s that I feel constricted; that there are certain things and people that have to go on my list, and I don’t have the freedom to put whatever the hell I want on there if I’m feeling grateful for it right now.
That attitude misses the point entirely. The list can be made up of whatever I want it to be! Feeling grateful today that I lost two pounds since yesterday and came in below 180 lbs? Put that down! Thankful for the news that Britney announced she’s putting out a new album in 2010, only a year after her previous effort? Include that! Ain’t nothing too trivial or superficial. Someone told me once that there is no such thing as a wrong feeling. Ever. Period. So if you’re doing this exercise, don’t feel you have to write I’m grateful for my son or I’m grateful for my job – especially if you’re not grateful for either of those things at this moment (even if you think they’re what you’re “supposed” to be grateful for).
Here, I’ll bang a few out for ya:
- I’m grateful I’ve written over 550 words of this column so far, and I don’t think they completely suck.
- I’m grateful to be writing, period. Because it makes me feel good.
- I’m grateful my dog Petey is sleeping in his crate now and not bothering me.
- I’m grateful my annual review with my boss yesterday was a lot more enjoyable than I expected it to be.
- I’m grateful for my discipline to follow a new exercise and nutrition regimen for almost a week, developed for me – for free – by a trainer at my gym. I’m grateful, too, that the service is free and included in my membership, and that the trainer speaks excellent English.
- I’m grateful I was able to transfer over 99% of the data from my old external hard drive to the new one I just bought before the old one completely crapped out and corrupted everything.
There. Notice there was not “world peace” on there. Or, even “that I live in such a nice apartment, and it is nice and well decorated and clean and orderly (OCD much, Scott?).” I have definitely felt gratitude for my apartment before; many times even. And if I really look around and think about it, I can manifest some of those feelings now. But at this moment, I would have to make an effort to feel them. They’re not rolling off my soul at this particular moment. For me, it’s not true gratitude if I have to force the feelings. So even though I know I am lucky to live in this beautiful apartment, right now I’m not particularly feeling so much gratitude about that. Instead, it’s more accessible to me to feel grateful that the hard drive transfer worked. And to quote one of my heroes, Stuart Smalley, That’s OK. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
Anyway, that’s my contribution to the idea of gratitude and the therapeutic potential of making a Gratitude List. I hope at least one thing I wrote helps at least one person reading it. I’m actually really, really grateful that there is even one stranger out there voluntarily choosing to read what I’ve written, thereby giving me an audience. I don’t really get to be a “writer” unless that happens; otherwise I’m just journaling. So, thank You.