There’s certainly some frustration out there among people who don’t want to be told to be grateful on command. It’s a sort of privilege shaming. “You shouldn’t feel X because you have Y.” Nobody has to be grateful for anything. You don’t even have to be grateful for having an audience to listen to you complain and reject the pressure to be grateful. Pessimism and cynicism are there for the taking, free, in unlimited quantities, and you don’t have to be grateful for them, either. I say that gratitude is mandatory for two reasons. One, it’s a cultural trend, and if you can’t do it with genuine fervor, then you should at least know how to fake it. Two, gratitude is generally the logical choice. It makes more sense, and life is easier when it makes sense.
The case for gratitude.
Say you’re traveling to visit a group of people and you’re, at best, ambivalent about the trip. You have the option of being grateful for your mode of transportation. As bad as it is, presumably it isn’t an open-air horse cart. Presumably you aren’t being splattered with wet mud as you go along.
You also have the option of being grateful that all of the people at your shindig are currently alive. None of them have died of cancer and none of them have committed suicide. Maybe you know several people who fit that description. Given that truly sad set of circumstances, a person with that history would have even more cause to appreciate the continuing aliveness of those around the table.
You have the option of being grateful for the food. Oh, you don’t have to. There are plenty of terrible cooks out there, plenty of dried-out turkeys and boats of lumpy gravy and other horrors. I’m going to insist on this one, though, because I’ve gone hungry. If you can’t be grateful for a plate of hot food, get over it. Get over yourself and thank the cook.
You have the option of being ungrateful for anything I’ve mentioned so far. Of course! Nobody wants to be bludgeoned with the logical need to be impressed with the status quo. Can you be genuinely ungrateful for your literacy, though? For your ability to access the internet, use modern electronic equipment, and read these words?
I often use contrarian methods to remind myself to be grateful. I’m grateful I’m not in a coma. I’m grateful I can breathe without equipment. I’m grateful I can walk unaided. I’m grateful I have all of my fingers and toes. I’m grateful I don’t need a root canal. I’m grateful we aren’t having a power failure. I’m grateful the water in my building is turned on. I’m grateful my neighbors aren’t playing loud music (right now). I’m grateful my dog doesn’t need emergency veterinary surgery. I’m grateful we aren’t being audited by the IRS. I’m grateful not to be caught up in an addiction. I’m grateful I don’t have a misspelled tattoo.
There are better reasons. I’m grateful that my favorite authors have written my favorite books. I’m grateful that my favorite musicians made recordings of my favorite songs. I’m grateful for 24-hour grocery stores and pharmacies. I’m grateful for Wikipedia. I’m grateful for the public library and the fact that there’s a branch within walking distance of my apartment. I’m grateful we have a garbage disposal.
I’m grateful that spiders can’t fly. (Spiders are on my mind today, because one was crawling in my sheets this morning, and it was the first thing I saw when I woke up, and I have to be grateful that it didn’t bite me).
Gratitude comes easily to me, because my life was much tougher ten years ago than it is today. Gratitude is also easy after someone close to you has passed away, or at least I think so. I do a mental head count every day. Even when someone is annoying me, I’m still glad I’m not at their funeral. Gratitude is, in my case, born of great sadness and past disappointment. I’ve come to believe that anything I am not sufficiently grateful for will be taken from me, and quickly. I’d better appreciate it to the fullest while I still have it, while it still exists to be appreciated.
Gratitude also comes easily to me because I’m an optimist. I’ve found that allowing myself to give way to awe and wonder and curiosity makes for the most interesting possible life. It often seems to me that a lack of gratitude comes from a distinct lack of imagination and creativity. Maybe, when we aren’t able to force ourselves to feel gratitude for anything, maybe we should try to create something for which it is worth feeling grateful?
You might not be, but I am grateful for your continued existence and well-being, for the fellowship of your friends and family, for the blessings in your life. I wish you, dear reader, the happiest of seasons, and more bounty tomorrow than you have today.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.