If someone were to ask me to name things I’m grateful for, I’d have no problem coming up with a list:
- I’m grateful for the roof over my head.
- I’m grateful for the abundant food I have to eat.
- I’m grateful for the clothing I have to wear.
- I’m grateful for the freedoms my country provides.
- I’m grateful for my healthy and functional body.
- I’m grateful for my family and friends.
That’s just for starters.
And if someone then asked me why I’m grateful, I could answer that easily, too:
- I’m grateful for the roof over my head because I know many people are homeless.
- I’m grateful for the abundant food I have to eat because I know others are starving.
- I’m grateful for the clothing I have to wear because I know others lack basic needs.
- I’m grateful for the freedoms my country provides because I know some live with oppression and hate, and there are refugees with no place to call home.
- I’m grateful for my healthy and functional body because so many are sick or disabled.
- I’m grateful for my family and friends because I know others have lost loved ones or lack a strong and loving support system.
But say that pesky, overly inquisitive person went on to ask me how often I feel grateful, and how long those feelings of gratitude last?
That’s where I have an issue. Because I’d have to admit that my feelings of gratitude are often short-lived and conditional.
I don’t ever have a problem conjuring a sense of gratitude when I’m thinking of those who have less. When I hear about people living in poverty or in war-torn countries, or I hear unfortunate news of someone’s failing health or failing marriage or lost job, I feel genuinely appreciative and thankful for what I have.
What’s much harder is feeling truly grateful when comparing myself to those who have more.
The gratitude I feel for my home tends to wilt a little when I step into someone else’s much larger, newer, nicer home.
My feelings of gratitude for the clothing that keeps me warm and dry tends to dissipate when I spend time with a more stylish friend, or step into a mall and see the newest “must have” fashions.
It’s not a pretty thing to admit. But I can’t imagine I’m alone in the fact that if I were to add an honest “dot dot dot” to my above statements about gratitude, they’d probably sound a lot like this:
- I’m grateful for the food on my table because I know others are starving…but I wish we had the money to be able to eat out more. I swear everyone we know has tried out that new restaurant already.
- I’m grateful for my healthy and functional body because I know so many are sick or disabled…but I’d love to look like that woman at the gym who has amazing abs and perfect hair.
- I’m grateful for my loving family and friends…but that group of ladies on Facebook sure seems to have a way more exciting social life than I do.
And this is where the real work needs to begin when it comes to living a grateful life.
I think that we need to find contentment in order to truly live in a state of gratitude rather than just experiencing gratitude in bursts. If we can work toward feeling grateful regardless of who or what we’re comparing ourselves to, then we’ll develop a more authentic, deeper sense of gratitude that lasts, instead of the fleeting gratitude that comes when we hear of others’ misfortune or sit down at the Thanksgiving table.
Being grateful and content doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to better things. My blogging friend Laura wrote a great post about what contentment is and what it isn’t, and in it she points out that being content doesn’t mean that you don’t have goals or things you’d like to improve about your life. It just means that you don’t let your “wants” consume you, and you don’t let the “dot dot dots” derail your sense of gratitude.
In focusing on gratitude this month, I want to focus on contentment, too. I don’t just want to be grateful for things I have that others don’t. I want to be grateful in spite of what others have that I don’t.
My challenge: Pay attention to what steals your sense of gratitude. Make an effort to feel grateful in those moments when gratitude comes the least naturally.
I’d love to hear from you guys about what you do to encourage a grateful way of thinking, or any areas in which you struggle. Please share in the comments!