Tag Archives: grateful

Telling people to be grateful

While I’m largely in favour of practicing gratitude, I’m also interested in the ways it doesn’t always work. Telling people to be grateful can be one of those problem points. I see this as distinctly different from encouraging people to practice gratitude, which is fine. Broad encouragement pokes people towards looking at the good things in their life, appreciating them, voicing that appreciation and so forth. Telling people to be grateful has a very different swing to it. It’s come up recently with newspapers telling black people that they ought to be more grateful over their personal achievements.

If you’re telling someone to be grateful, it assumes you know what’s going on in their lives. They may not see their situation as being one where gratitude is an appropriate response. If you’ve worked your arse off to get somewhere against great odds, being grateful for the crumbs others have dropped is not a healthy response. If we make something positive out of disaster or tragedy, we should not be pressured to feel grateful for the awfulness that set things in motion.

If one party is telling another party what to do, it tends to indicate a massive power imbalance. Telling someone how they are supposed to feel is a way of invalidating their emotional responses. It can be a way of writing off a person’s experience, background, struggles and personal effort. Focusing on the need for gratitude can draw attention away from both the work a person has done, and the barriers they faced to getting to where they are. If people are achieving things in spite of prejudice, disadvantage, illness, poverty, lack of privilege… telling them to focus on what they should be grateful for is a way of taking power away from them. It says ‘don’t look at what you did, think of everything that helped’. And that isn’t always appropriate, or fair. Using the idea of gratitude to stop people celebrating their own achievements really isn’t cool.

Telling people they should express gratitude runs the risk of turning gratitude into an act of public performance. It can stop people from being authentic. It can stop people talking about the difficulties they’ve faced. For gratitude to be meaningful, it has to be felt. If instead, it is something we feel obliged to perform to avoid criticism, it becomes a very hollow, potentially toxic activity.

It’s always worth asking why it is we want a person to express more gratitude. What do we want them to shut up about? What do we not want to think about or deal with? What of theirs are we trying to own for ourselves?

Gratitude and Druidry

It’s Thursday, and on facebook a lot of people I know will be posting Thankful Thursday pieces, acknowledging the things in their lives they are glad about. Practicing gratitude is something that happens across a range of traditions, but like everything else, some ways of doing it are more helpful than others.

Taking time regularly to recognise the things we should be grateful for helps keep life in perspective. I have so many things that others do not: A roof over my head, enough to eat, I can afford to heat my home, I am not subject to violence or bullying, I am not in a war zone, a flood zone or anything else threatening. In these things I am fortunate, and acknowledging that I must also acknowledge that others are far less fortunate than me. Much of the difference is just plain luck, and in gratitude for what I have, I can reach out a hand to try and make things a bit better for those who are worse off.

Too much gratitude is not a good thing though. When you become grateful for the pathetic scraps from someone else’s table, gratitude becomes part of a process that strips away your humanity, if you aren’t careful. I used to be so grateful that the guy I used to live with put up with me. He seemed such a saint for tolerating all my shortcomings and inadequacies. I was so grateful, for any small gesture of kindness, any moment of warmth, any time he could be bothered to spare me some attention. When what you are given dwindles steadily, and you are required, or require yourself, to maintain the same level of gratitude, all of reality starts to distort around this, and the consequences are damaging.

Practicing gratitude needs to go alongside a process of really thinking about entitlement. What should we be able to take for granted? Physical safety, perhaps. A safety net in the form of the welfare state. Rights to life, liberty and freedom of conscience. If you start feeling grateful for these things, their place in your life is not as secure as it ought to be. There’s a world of difference between being glad of good friends and being grateful for the people you feel are generously putting up with you, even though it’s clearly very hard for them.  With enough mental effort, a story of gratitude can be built around anything: He only hits me because he loves me, is a classic example. Therefore, the degree to which there is violence is the degree to which there is love, and therefore a person learns to become grateful for violence inflicted on them. These are not good lessons to learn.

A person with a sense of self-worth, is better placed to judge where gratitude is called for, and where it is not. A person with an inflated ego can readily fail to notice the things they should appreciate. So much of Druidry is about finding a balance, and this is no exception. The balances around gratitude involve the balance of self-esteem and developing a sense of entitlement that is fair. This is quite a process, but I think the best place to start is by asking not what we, personally should be entitled to, but what we think everyone should be entitled to.

Working time for gratitude into your Druidry is a really productive activity. It changes how we view our own lives and is all about our relationships with the world around us. Gratitude is a response, to people, to luck and opportunity, to beauty. It calls into question what, if anything, we should be able to take for granted. It requires us to ask what entitlements life might have, and in this way invites us to respect the sacred in all things. Ideas of gratitude are tied up with ideas of worth and appreciation, and with a sense of joy and delight as well as the needful stuff. Exploring it helps us become more alert to the good stuff, too. There is much to be grateful for, but it is essential to be grateful for the right things.

Practicing Gratitude

The idea of making active gratitude a part of my daily Druid practice is one I’ve picked up by listening to what other Druids do. I’ve been consciously doing it for several years now. I think it conveys a lot of psychological benefits as well as contributing to the spiritual life.

It’s easy to use any religion as a comfort blanket, turning to deity with pleas to make things better, and imagining an afterlife full of rewards. Plenty of religions denigrate this life, describing it in terms of sin, or as something to transcend. Pagan religions just aren’t like that. The practice of gratitude encourages us to give daily time to looking at what is good.

From a psychological perspective, dwelling on the bad can be unhealthy and disempowering. Negative thought patterns reinforce depressed and anxious states, and feed anger, low self esteem, and pretty much any other unhelpful mindset you care to consider. What we do with our experiences goes a long way to inform what we make of our lives, and how we feel.

It’s tempting to think that a grateful attitude might encourage a person to accept that which is not good. This has not been my experience. I have been in situations of accepting the unacceptable, but that wasn’t fuelled by gratitude, but fear. In gratitude, I deliberately dwell on the things I value and appreciate. This tends to be a last thing at night activity for me, and usually my first thoughts are of profound appreciation for the comfort of my bed, and the lovely man beside me. I am grateful for the presence of my child in my life, for the roof over my head, for my health. I am grateful not to be hungry, or drinking unclean water. In this process of gratitude I make a point of putting my life in context and reminding myself that, whatever challenges I may have to face, there are plenty of worse things out there.

If anything, making a daily contemplation of gratitude helps me see clearly both the good in my life, and the less good. By focusing on the one, I am better at spotting the other, and keeping it in perspective. There are things I do not appreciate at all, from individual behaviour through to the actions of the government, the media, big industries and the masses. But I am also glad that I at least know these things and have some defence against being embroiled in them.

Taking for granted is a very easy form of destruction. It takes no thought, no effort and yet it has the power to erode relationships, undermine trust and make us blind to the good things. Assuming a right to anything works in much the same way.  A sense of entitlement can often be very much at odds with a capacity for gratitude. Where we feel entitled, we dwell on shortcomings, where we feel grateful, we dwell on the blessings. The difference between experiencing people who are practicing entitlement, and those who are practicing gratitude, is vast. The former are demanding, self important, critical, and seldom pleased. The latter tend to be far more compassionate, aware, and co-operative. It’s one of the many choices a person can make consciously, but so many people don’t even seem to realise it even exists.