*Originally written for Solyoga Trips
Yesterday afternoon I went for a long trail run in the hills–bands of rosy light were stretching through the tree branches and hitting the leaves so they would glow with late autumn reds and yellows. As I ran deeper into the hills, it got cooler and the moss grew more dense on the eucalyptus and redwood trunks; my exhales looked like puffs of smoke as they meshed with the crispy air. After I got to the top of a hard climb my legs were hot with blood and I looked out through a break in the trees, able to see for a few miles in the distance. The sun was setting and the hills turned gold. I stopped running and just stood, just looked. “I’m lucky,” I said out loud. This time I didn’t have the dogs with me, so I can’t lie to you and say I was talking to them. I said it to myself. Because that’s how I felt. It felt true.
I wasn’t looking forward to writing a yay-let’s-be-thankful-because-Thanksgiving-is-coming post. Every November, I struggle to write something fresh instead of the cliche Why You Should Be Grateful article. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. But one thing I promise is that I’m not just writing this because I feel like I should or I think it’s what people want to hear this time of year. I believe in this stuff. I believe in gratitude.
And yeah, Thanksgiving is coming so what the hell.
Gratitude is a weird concept for Westerners. It doesn’t always come naturally for us, because our culture doesn’t really encourage us to be thankful. Instead we’re bombarded with messages about how we don’t have enough money, happiness, and things, how we should somehow be better, stronger, healthier, more successful and less of a fuck up. No wonder we find it hard to be grateful–we’re constantly surrounded by the suggestion that what we have now isn’t anything to smile about.
As a culture, we don’t like to admit that gratitude is difficult for us sometimes. I mean, come on, weren’t we the ones who created mother effing Thanksgiving for God’s sake?! ….no? That wasn’t us? Oh…well whatever. What we are is stuck in a really confusing moral battle with ourselves–we know that we should be thankful for all we have, but in the next second we get bombarded with “your life isn’t good enough” from all different directions.
So what do we do?
I don’t think that gratitude will ever really work for us or feel authentic unless we can step away from the constant struggle to better ourselves and our lives. That’s not to say that we should stop setting goals and having big dreams–but we need to find a balance between being content with right now, and being excited for what’s to come.
Gratitude isn’t a pick and choose kind of concept. We can’t be thankful for our home but wish for a bigger backyard, or happy that we have a job but not so happy about the car that drives us there. In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. Either love it all or you really don’t love any of it. And maybe love is the wrong word, but maybe it isn’t. The things, people, and situations that make up our lives are infinitely woven together and connected, and if we aren’t grateful for one aspect of it, the whole spider web shifts.
For me, gratitude usually comes in moments, bubbling up to the surface when I’m surrounded by my family, see something beautiful, or sometimes just randomly–like when I was trail running. But it never really leaves, it’s not only present when there is a reason for it to be. Gratitude can be in every moment, and even though it might be kind of shy and quiet in the corner of the room, it’s still there. Always.
Gratitude isn’t about comparison, it’s not ‘hey at least I’m not that guy’, it shouldn’t feel forced or fake or phony. Being grateful doesn’t mean we aren’t sad when something bad happens, because yeah, sometimes shitty things happen. And sometimes, really shitty things happen. Gratitude doesn’t undermine or devalue what happened, and we sure as hell don’t have to be all giddy and happy for the bad stuff.
We know that having gratitude is something we need, for all of those cliche reasons listed in every November issue of a healthy living magazine or blog. But we also need gratitude for another, not so obvious reason–it is something that we must have in order to heal. Gratitude acts like a salve that eases the sting of being hurt, makes the throb of loss more tolerable, and helps transform what was a deep, vulnerable wound into a pretty cool looking scar.