If you know me and follow me on social media, you know I don’t save gratitude for this one time of the year.
I love Thanksgiving. Always have, since I was a kid. (Well…I remember having tantrums when forced to wear a dress to dinner, but that’s another story for another blog post.) I liked it because I felt it was right—no, more than right, essential—to focus on what we have. It’s human nature to take all we’re given and focus on what we still want, but it’s not the best of human nature. It’s a tendency worth counteracting.
Now, the part about the social networks might sound odd. It might even sound like an idea that doesn’t mesh with gratitude. I can picture you asking yourself (I’m a novelist, I have a vivid imagination) “Why online? Why not just be grateful?” I tried that. It worked fine. Until I forgot. Which I always did. But then I started to be publicly grateful. And within a few days, people were telling me that they liked my #DailyGratitudes. That they followed them. Looked forward to them. Not scads of people, just a handful. Just enough to create accountability. If I slacked off, someone would notice.
I thought I’d been doing this since the beginning of the year, but I just reread an essay on gratitude I wrote for the AOL News site in early December of last year. In it, I was clear that I had been doing the #DailyGratitude thing for some time. So I guess I don’t know how long it’s been. But I do know what I’ve learned.
You see, I set out to focus on a specific type of gratitude. Not because I already knew what was most important, but because I didn’t want to seem “braggy.” I might think, “I’m glad I own my home instead of renting,” or, “I’m glad I’m published as an author,” but I would never use those for my #DailyGratitude. Because I didn’t want people to react by thinking, “Sure, I’d be grateful too if I had that.” (Not that I have a lot. Just that I have a lot compared to some. Almost everybody has a lot compared to some.)
Instead I looked for the kind of gratitude that almost anyone can find. The kind that just involves shifting my focus—looking and listening in a different way. I still remember the first time I lay awake in bed and listened to the birds singing at dawn. I honestly didn’t know if it was something unusual, or if they did that every morning and I just hadn’t thought to listen. And I never looked up much when I was outside, until one day I noticed the clouds looked as though they’d been painted on. I felt like I could see the brush strokes. So I started commenting about the “Painter of the Clouds.” And now I notice the clouds all the time. And they are so often amazing!
Here’s what I learned from my Daily Gratitude: the blessings I decided to focus on just coincidentally happen to be what really matters. In the great scheme of life, it’s not about whether I own or rent, whether I’m published or not published. What matters is the way the birds sing at dawn, and the amazing way the clouds are painted on the sky.
But I had to be grateful first. And my gratitude led me to a better understanding of what to be grateful for. Funny how that works.