Here’s a tip for you:
the quickest way to get grateful about things is to have them taken away from you.
Ever have an aspect of your health compromised? That will get you grateful real fast. When I broke my foot, and had to navigate stairs and subways in a New York winter, the value of bipedal mobility was made very apparent to me.
When one day, I woke up with a migraine headache, and now have had them for fifteen years, the value of a healthy nervous system was made very apparent to me.
Did you know that in a survey of countries, as it relates to happiness, the United States ranked 33rd in the nations of the world? Far, far behind what we still call “third world” nations, places where children still play games together outside, sometimes even using their imaginations. Remember that?
I think having so much really gets in the way of feeling grateful.
When I traveled to Cuba, way back in 1999, it was impossible not to notice that they had so very little. While we were there, everyone on the trip was a little hungry, the whole time. Because, there was far less food than we were accustomed to. One couple kinda knew about this, and had packed food. They had a stash of rice krispie treats. They shared one with me, and—wow!—I can’t recall that food ever tasting as good as it did then. I was grateful that they shared with me. I was grateful to have what I didn’t recognize back then as a sugar addiction satisfied a little bit. I took a piano lesson with a guy who is world renowned. And paid him $25 cash–more than his family might earn in a year. Think about that.
When I returned to the states after that trip, I recall my first trip to an American grocery store. It was overwhelming. There was so much! Do we really need 20 different options when it comes to toilet paper?
In the yoga world, #gratitude has become its own trope. Heck, I’ve even adopted it, and lead a retreat called “Practice Grace, Receive Gratitude.”* Every time I go to lead this retreat, I run up against a feeling inside, something that tells me I’m faking it a little bit. That I might be faking ought not to dissuade you from coming to the retreat—no, in fact, if you get caught up in these ideas of gratitude, and find yourself really having to cast around for something you’re grateful for besides, like, a cup of coffee (addiction much?), this retreat might be for you. Or, if you appreciate that a teacher grapples with themselves, even struggles with a concept, this retreat might be for you. I like to learn from people who didn’t master the topic immediately. It means they really had to “learn.” Innate talent for a topic doesn’t always yield the best teachers.
But don’t take my word for any of this. Continue to hear me out. If there’s one thing in the world I’m a warrior about, it’s ferreting out those moments where we’re faking it, modulating our behavior to fit some expectation, becoming less authentic along the way. It’s happening to us all the time, like entropy. I’m interested in the ways that we have become divorced from really feeling grateful in our lives, and started faking it. Don’t lie to me, and tell me that you really feel grateful every day. Really? Do you? Or have you just decided its “good” for you to say so, like eating kale, or drinking green tea? I’m sure you’re like most other Americans (or a citizen of some other developed world), drowning in TOO MUCH. Abundance, ironically, becomes its own trap.
Think about it for a moment. What could you do without. Really, could you pare your existence down to the bare minimum? Like those Cubans—man, the U.S. embargo even blocked those people from having the simplest of medical supplies, and still they figured out how to have one of the BEST MEDICAL SYSTEMS in the WORLD. You might ask what I was doing in Cuba—funny you should ask. Delivering medical supplies. And musical instruments. One of the most prolific, creative societies in the world lacked tools with which to make their art. Reeds for clarinets. Spare parts for a saxophone. But did that stop them from making great art? NO. In fact, it probably motivated them even more to make BETTER ART. Take THAT world!!!
So much comes out of having less. Do not despair if you find yourself lacking. It will cook your character in the fires of (relative) hardship. And you will perhaps emerge, finding that you have discovered a depth of #grateful that you never knew existed. And that might make you grateful all over again.
*actually, we used to call this retreat “Practice Gratitude, Receive Grace” and then realized that the relationship was backwards. If you’re interested in the retreat, click HERE to read my honest assessment, and description of what it’s about, and click HERE to view the registration page.