I had been half listening to an interview on the radio during a long drive the other day. The guest advocated cultivating an attitude of gratitude in order to attract more good things into ones life. Soon, I began to wonder when gratitude became a technique instead of just a thankful state of mind.
The interview show wasn’t the only time I’ve noticed that gratitude was being pushed as a way to acquire more “blessings” or even great wealth. I just had not taken the time to analyze it before. I switched off the radio to avoid distraction.
The past several years have brought us such things as the “prosperity gospel”, at least one book that mentions it–The Secret, and numerous motivational speakers who preach that idea.
Often times the book or speaker actually names this practice as the “strategy of gratitude”. Talking points advise the student to change in how, how often, and when to tweak the technique to make it more effective.
I had to pull off of the highway and park on a side road in order to give this realization some thought.
How many times have we been told to be thankful for the bounty we enjoy? It seems like countless times; and we’ve been told to do so since childhood. We learned that gratitude was a spontaneous feeling of thankfulness and appreciation. If you have a pet dog or cat, you’ve seen how they express raw gratitude after you feed, or groom them.
Feelings of gratitude bubble forth after someone performs an act of kindness or helpfulness to us. We feel glad that the gesture was provided to us. At the same time, we are not encouraged to feel indebted to that benefactor. Feelings of gratitude are markedly different than feelings of obligation.
Frequently the benefactor is nature or good luck. How can we feel obligated to return a favor to the natural order of life? True gratitude is a joyful emotion we feel when we realize that we are alive and able to experience life and things around us. Gratitude is almost beyond description.
Does gratitude start to become a technique when we’re taught that we should be grateful? This goes beyond the simple good manners of saying please and thank you. Most religions strongly advocate frequent expressions of gratitude and thankfulness be directed towards their particular deities. We are told that this pleases the deity and ensures further benevolence will occur in the future. This seems more like an obligatory rather than a natural expression. If you are admonished to be grateful or else, does that type of thankfulness feel truly authentic and sincere?
A plethora of self-help books and seminars give subjective evidence that counting blessings makes us happier. There may be some truth to this claim. It seems, however, that enumerating the good things in our lives still leaves a dim shadow of doubt about how fortunate we are.
Is the thankfulness that is coaxed out of us by writing in a journal or following the advice of a motivational guru or clergy really and truly an honest sense of gratitude? At times, it may appear to be so. It seems to me to widely miss the mark. When I practice these techniques, the gratitude feels superficial.
There are those times when I’m outdoors either doing something like walking or just sitting on the porch witnessing the dawning of a new morning. Maybe the cawing of a crow or screeching of a blue jay jolts me out of a reverie. A warm glow of gratitude washes over me. There are no words nor any doctrine that can describe it.
Whenever I’ve tried to voice it or write it down or analyze it in any way, the emotion vanishes without a trace. Whenever I purposely try to recreate the experience, all I get is a cheap imitation. Is it even wise to try to emulate gratitude?
When gratitude emerges, isn’t it best to simply allow a wide smile, and experience the joy? Gratitude of this sort is self-generating and pure.
Certainly expressing thankfulness to your lover, your friend, your colleague, and even your deity is wise and good. Perhaps the anecdotal evidence that claims an attitude of gratitude will generate prosperity is correct.
But when you think about it, doesn’t the technique of gratitude imply lack? Doesn’t it suggest that one is not sincerely grateful? The technique of gratitude seems to imply underlying greed.
There are many who know that true joy comes from being grateful for what we already possess. Isn’t that the real McCoy?
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”