Tag Archives: gratitude

Gratitude and fortune

I am lucky. When my life fell apart I had enough inherited cash that I did not have to seek social housing. I can earn some money, even though I’ve been ill, and thanks to self-employment have been able to stay out of sickness related benefits. I do get some help from the government – you can get support alongside quite decent incomes, if you have children. But on the whole, I’m not as dependent on the system as many people are, and that’s pure, blind luck.

It was sheer luck that the bad choices in my history did not leave me in a mental health hospital, or out on the streets. It was pure chance that set me up in life with a decent genetic intelligence and some good teachers. Not everyone gets that. I’ve been able to roll with changes and challenges, survive setbacks and find ways round problems because I am fortunate enough to be passably bright and pretty well educated. Not everyone gets those breaks.

It’s all too easy to look at the successes in our lives, and put those down to how good we are. We deserve our winnings, our paychecks, our comfy homes, good health. Of course we want to believe that because it gives us an illusion of control. If we made it and earned it, then we ought to be able to keep it. This is just an illusion. Bad luck, an accident, a folding company, ill health, a run on your bank, a tree root undermining your house. The lucky amongst us are seldom more than a couple of missing payments away from total disaster. Should that happen, much depends on how lucky we are in our friends and family, and how much support we get.

Blaming those who get into trouble is a way of reassuring ourselves that it won’t happen to us. We’re too smart. We work too hard. We’re too together to have a mental health problem. We jog, so we aren’t going to get sick. No matter how hard you try, one mistake with a car can take all of that way from you in a space of minutes. We want the people at the bottom to be lazy scroungers, so that we don’t have to be afraid of that happening to us. Well, we should be afraid, and we should see our illusions of security for what they really are. Bad luck strikes randomly, and does not pay much attention to how clever, hard working or health conscious you are. There’s only so much you can ward off by doing the right things, and only so far a clever mind will carry you. I’ve seen it happen to plenty of people. There are lots of folk on narrowboats who got here because they were too smart to entirely go under. Businesses ruined by supermarkets. Lives ruined by violence and abuse. People plagued by ill health, or who lost everything in a messy divorce. But people who had enough left and enough imagination to take up boating, and survive. Not everyone has the inner strength to keep getting up when they’ve been knocked down more times than they can count.

Some of what pushes people to the bottom of the pile is not pure bad luck. It’s deliberate abuse by others. Unlucky to get a dose of that, but not wholly accidental. Robbed, raped, beaten, bullied, intimidated, forced out, mistreated, conned… there but for the grace of… go any of us. These things destroy mental health, destroy financial success, demolish lives. If we’ve avoided one of those disasters, it may not be because we’re too smart, it may just be we were lucky. Sometimes people fall because they are ignorant, or naïve, or gullible, or too willing to forgive, or not mean enough to take advantage of others. Are these things we really think others should be punished for?

If we recognise that luck, it’s a lot easier to stop assuming the poor are at the bottom of the heap because they can’t be bothered to arrange anything better. It’s easier to find some compassion, and not to judge everyone without knowing any of their details. As the job market dwindles, more and more people are pushed, wholly against their will, into poverty and dependence. People who want to work if they could, who would gladly take on anything. Why burden them further by stigmatising them for things beyond their control? So that we can hang on to the belief that we deserve what we have and it won’t be taken away. And because it suits the government as they take yet more money out of the welfare system.

When it is taken away, when you find life spiralling out of control, and you desperately need help and someone to pick up the pieces, there’s much to be said for finding yourself in a kind and compassionate system. Because the alternative is to believe that you deserved the fall as well, that it represents a failure to work hard enough or be good enough. You are a failure, then. Or the alternative is no safety net, and destitution, and no second chances.

Picture yourself (if you’ve not been here) suddenly out of a job, and unable to pay the bills, with the mortgage company threatening to take the house, and your relationship falling apart under the strain, and the anxiety making you feel so sick you can’t get out of bed in the morning, and crying for no reason sometimes and wanting to die. Picture yourself there, and then ask how helpful you’d find it to have the government treating you like a lazy scrounger who is destroying the economy.

We’re long overdue a culture shift on this one.

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.

Bards to sing their praises

One of the functions of historical bards was to sing the praises of heroes, great leaders and other worthy figures. To be ennobled in verse by a bard was to have a place in history, and when you’ve got a culture that doesn’t leave a written record, being part of the oral tradition is the only way of being remembered.

However, praise does not have to be the just the business of epic poetry, and doesn’t have to just be about war heroes. It’s something that any of us can choose as an aspect of daily practice. It’s a way of integrating your Druidry into ‘normal’ life, you can see it as part of your service, and it has a lot of powerful effects.

From an individual perspective, the giving of praise is currently seen as a way of developing your self-assertive skills and therefore can help raise self esteem. Giving praise is one of the easiest kinds of opinion to offer – let’s face it, very few people are going to reject praise or give you a hard time for praising them, so if self assertion is a difficult issue for you, praise is a safe way in. There’s also the fact that it feels good. We don’t have a culture that praises, so it may feel a bit odd at first, but it’s such an inherently lovely thing to be doing.

Having work recognised is the most tremendous morale boost. That’s as true for artists as it is for the person who just washed the kitchen floor. Recognition gives a sense of self worth, a feel-good reward for the effort made. Knowing the work had a value to someone else makes it easier to keep working. Knowing your efforts are recognised saves you from feeling taking for granted. It’s all good. While money is frequently an issue for people who live by their creativity, it’s not the be all and end all. A few words of encouragement, a round of applause, helps keep a person going. If you can’t pay your bard for their efforts, let them know you enjoyed what they did.

It’s easy to take things, and people for granted. Why thank the person who was just doing the job they were paid for? Why honour the person who was doing what any decent person should be expected to do, in the circumstances? Because it isn’t always as easy as it may look from the outside. Just because there is money doesn’t mean recognising the value doesn’t matter. A word of thanks, praise or appreciation can turn drudgery into something meaningful.

When it comes to children, there are learning implications around praise. The child who is only ever told off and criticised will have low self esteem, little confidence in their abilities and may come to think there’s no point even trying. The child who is praised for their efforts and progress feels good about learning, is motivated to learn, consolidates their successes and is likely to do better. More carrot, less stick.

There are also implications for relationships. Giving praise to those around you is a simple way of reinforcing bonds, be those of family, community, work colleagues, or amorous in nature. Praise shows appreciation, it shows that you value and enjoy those around you. This in turn improves their sense of self, their morale, their enjoyment of life, and probably increases their positive feelings towards you. Once a culture of praise is established, you are more likely to receive praise in return, which is a bonus.

There are many things it’s easy to be stingy with, without even noticing it. Praise is one of those. Being generous with praise is incredibly powerful though. Voice your gratitude. Honour those who take care of you. In praising what is good, you shift your focus towards the good things and away from the less good things. It’s win all round.

I’d like to round off this blog by praising a few people publically. Dalia Craig, my editor, who goes far above and beyond the call of duty on a regular basis, makes words look beautiful on the page, and is endlessly patient with my foibles. I would like to praise Robin Herne, running this weekend’s Pooka’s Pageant (to raise money for a Hare charity) and kindly giving me some performance space as I come out of hermitdom. Running events is hard work, takes considerable skill, a lot of nerve and vision. Wendy Stokes running the Lightworker’s Hub, always supportive, nurturing, generous with her experience and wisdom.

There are many more who deserve public acts of gratitude. I shall catch up with them where opportunities permit.

And thank you, to all of you who leave insightful, inspiring, challenging, provocative and enlightening comments here (especially Alex, who hardly misses a day). Much appreciated.