"GRATITUDE IS THE MORAL MEMORY OF HUMANKIND"
“I am grateful for...” It’s easy to say but even easier to forget to say. So easy to say that I’m disappointed when I reflect on how it’s a sentiment I fail to express at least once a day. Too often we pass up saying I’m grateful, waiting in suspense for the big moments in our lives that seem worthy of those four words: you’re grateful for a friend on their birthday, your mother on Mother’s Day, and father on Father’s Day. But life is not about the big moments and gratitude isn’t constrained to the calendar. Our lives are a composition of the little things that make up our day-to-day existence.
Too often these seemingly meaningless little moments are the ones we are most likely to forget to appreciate. Was it that you woke up feeling fresh, did your toast turn out just right, did the barista smile at you that morning, or did someone hold the door for you on the subway. These are all things to be grateful for. My mood and day would run much differently had I woken up groggy, burnt the toast, had a barista with an attitude, or missed the subway. It seems to often take disruptions in these small moments during our day to realize how much we appreciate and revel in the simple things. This fact was made blatantly aware to me the other day when my dog walk was ruined by someone rudely honking at me to get out of the way. When everything runs smoothly, I never seem to feel the same degree of happiness to the extent that I feel annoyed or bothered when things don’t go the way I want them to. That honk for me was a reminder to appreciate all of the honk-less dog walks.
This pattern is the same one we experienced last year, one that is still the reality for many of us. Except on a much larger scale. It took the absolute restriction of our freedom during quarantine and the pandemic to realize all the things we have to be grateful for. Being grateful is not a habit that can be constrained to one day such as Thanksgiving. It should be a habit and a standard that we hold ourselves to. Therefore expressing gratitude shouldn’t be a New Year’s resolution, because those are too easily forgotten. Instead, it involves an overhaul of our mindset and the perspective with which we go about our lives. A mindset is something that should have much more permanence than an NYE resolution.
There is no right way to express gratitude, it is up to each one of us individually to decide that for ourselves. And one mustn’t only constrain oneself to the traditional categories for expressing gratitude such as family, friends, and our health. Gratitude is an omnipresent aspect that penetrates every moment of our lives. We can attribute it even to the most trivial of things like buying the last dress that was in stock, discovering someone else had already unloaded the dishwasher, or waking up and seeing that a scornful zit has disappeared. If you’re afraid of being judged for being grateful for “superficial” or “trivial” matters (like that aforementioned dress), you can now be grateful for one more thing, that you’re not as judgemental as those around you.
The myriad benefits that expressing gratitude will reap in your life are scientifically-backed such as improving your psychological health, self-esteem, and strengthening positive emotions. Perhaps this is the reason why I find myself resistant to beginning the Five Minute Journal I recently received. The journal requires me to start every morning by writing down three things I am grateful for. I find it difficult because I’m apprehensive that once I begin the journal, I’ll stop shortly thereafter leaving me feeling guilty for abandoning yet another thing that made me a better person (like how I’ve all but given up on working out).
An example of gratitude personified is the ‘Pay it forward’ movement that sometimes takes place in drive-throughs such as at fast food restaurants or coffee chains. It involves each person once they reach the cashier offering to pay for the person behind them, unbeknownst to them how large or expensive the order is. The person at the beginning of the chain gains nothing except the knowledge that they are probably a better person than the rest of us. It shames me to admit that when I was at a Caribou Coffee drive through this summer and the cashier told me that somebody had already paid for my drink, I did not ‘pay it forward’ so to say. Not because I’m selfish but because I’m a foreigner in my homeland and simply was unaware of the concept (I’ll admit to also smugly thinking that the vehicle ahead had caught a glance of me in their rearview mirror). Now that I’ve been made aware of my blatant error, I’ll hopefully pay it forward next time, just as I hope I’ll never stop saying “I’m grateful for...”