“The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), Life Thoughts: Gathered from the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, Edna Dean Proctor
Gratitude is not something most of us interact with daily.
Our day normally passes by uneventfully, with some unpleasant moments and some more enjoyable ones. In this time, we mostly engage with practical thoughts concerning how we are going to go about our day. We more than likely offer a number of people thanks throughout the day, usually because they did something for us. And these can be quite sincere. But that kind of thankfulness is often part of social interaction and may not necessarily have anything to do with experiencing gratitude.
The thing about experiencing gratitude is that it takes effort and awareness.
It doesn’t often spring upon us randomly, but rather as a result of a sequence of thoughts. It takes effort as it requires us to stop, take a moment and switch tracks. Instead of becoming or remaining bogged down and nestling in among all our troubles, it requires us to change our viewing frame. For most of us who live relatively comfortable lives, this really means acknowledging our reality. All it takes is a quick run through the reality of our circumstances and we very often come out the other end feeling grateful.
Our thoughts can distort our vision and we are unable to see what we have to be grateful about.
In this case, we should think outside the box. Take your life and imagine how it could be so different. Imagine a number of alternative scenarios that make your spine tingle. Immerse yourself in the terrifying possibilities of what you could be going through but by luck, grace or whatever you want to call it; you’re not. When we imagine these alternative realities, we realise how much grief and anguish we have so far been spared. Be aware enough to realise that no matter how low we feel, reality can always get worse. That may seem like a grim thought, but it is true, and usually floods us with immense feelings of gratitude for the lives we have.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
G.K. Chesterton, 1917, A Short History of England
The benefits of engaging with gratitude is a bit elusive to words, but put simply, it clears the skies.
When we take stock of our lives, we can see all the good right in front of us, and all that we ignore or underappreciate. We go on to think of how much worse it could all be, and we gain further appreciation for the good. On top of that, we realise how fragile and precious it all is. When we take part in this thought process, honestly and sincerely, we can become overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. We want to hold everyone as close as possible, hoping beyond hope that life knows we don’t take any of it for granted, in fear of it being stripped away.
But life goes on and once again we become disengaged and our vision clouded.
However, this thought process is always there for us to return to. Like everything else, it takes practice to instil as a habit in our lives. But by doing so, it allows us to experience contentment. Engaging with gratitude helps us cherish the wonderful moments and helps us keep a reasonable perceptive on the more difficult ones. Practice gratitude and watch it illuminate all around you, a bit brighter and for a bit longer every time.
“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens,1836/7, Sketches by Boz