Are you hearing and reading a lot about gratitude lately? How do you feel when you hear "be grateful"? Grateful for the small things in life, thankful for the chance for growth from painful experience - does hearing that irritate you sometimes?
My mom has not been a good cook, to put it mildly. When I did not empty my plate, she used to say: "The people in the third world would be grateful for the food." And how often did grown-ups tell you to say "thank you" when you were still a kid.
The Case Of Fake Gratitude
I am convinced that manners are a great cultural technology and helpful to get along with each other. But saying "thank you" automatically, as a reflex makes the word an empty shell.
Why should people not express when they don´t like a present? Shouldn´t the goal be to express your emotions without fear of hurting someone else?
And how about non-verbal expression? When my eyes light up, isn´t that enough?
Many people had internalized the reflex of "thank you" so much that they even say it when they did something for someone else or a person has been rude.
The true gratitude challenge
The first step is to observe all of the times you thank someone. In which situation do you say "thank you"? For what do you thank people? Do you MEAN it?
For a week, you could only thank people when you mean it, not because it is expected. I will admit, that you might come across a bit anti-social. I will say that I enjoyed the task (:
We do not like to be told what to do. It creates resistance. That is normal, for nobody wants to follow orders.
He alone is free who lives with free consent under the entire guidance of reason. - Baruch Spinoza
Why we like good manners
What do we like about manners? If I do something polite for someone, I might get a smile in return or a "thank you." I feel acknowledged. My good manners and politeness create an echo. I thank you and you, smile at me. You will have a better opinion of me.
Am I polite because I am feeling grateful or to create an echo and motivate you to a positive response?
What if someone is in a rush or rude and just ignores me? Will I be disappointed? Will I become judgemental and think something along the line of
- This person has bad manners
- What did I do to that person to react like this?
When you analyze these thoughts, you will come to the conclusion that you need that "thank you" to feel good and acknowledged. If I exaggerated a little bit, I could say: Your self-esteem depends on it.
What if nobody acknowledges your good manners and politeness for a whole day? Or week? Would you question yourself?
If it´s a good idea to depend on this kind of social acknowledgment is a question for another day.
What it is not is gratitude.
Gratitude is an attitude
Gratitude is crucial. It´s an essential component of happiness. Positive thoughts attract positive outcomes. Happy people achieve more.
In my life, gratitude is of paramount importance.
Manners are not gratitude. Doing something to get something in return is not gratitude. Gratitude is without expectation. It is not a reflex, a meaningless automatism
Gratitude is the way you face the world and how you connect with it.
To me, gratitude is related to not taking things for granted.
You probably never suffered from hunger in your life. Or thirst. Clean water is available through the taps in your bathroom, kitchen and in your shower. You probably were never homeless and always had a roof over your head.
Throughout your life, there was probably always someone who loved you.
We can be grateful for what we have, even though we have it every day. I could never relate to the quote: "You only know how much something means to you when you have lost it."
I am grateful every day for things that I always had.
Gratitude for pain
Yes, we learn a lot from painful experiences. Through them, we became who we are now. Still, I would never tell people to be grateful for pain. That would be a bit cynical.
The feeling of gratefulness for negative experiences only manifests in retrospective.
Mindfulness and gratitude
I have a fantastic exercise for you. This exercise is also a mindfulness practice.
Exercise: Gift of Gratitude
During the two weeks, analyze in which moments are fully "there." Maybe a flower (or cool car) catches your eye? Or is your lunch tasty? Or perhaps when you look into the face of someone you love?
Each time, pause for 30 seconds and explore it with all of your senses. Be only at the moment and experience your emotions, breathing and "it."
Before you go to sleep, let the day pass in front of your eyes. Retrieve the memories, relive them. You will be amazed that you will be able to recall moments that did not stand out. Enjoy the bath in the abundance of the memories of the day.
After two weeks, reflect. What has changed since you started the exercise? What did you learn about yourself? What was the impact?
Did you feel gratitude? How does gratitude feel for you?
Maybe you decide that you will continue this exercise. Or you might want to come back to it from time to time.
I feel grateful for my loyal community!