The world is a messy place. Our lives are messy too. In the middle of chaos, confusion, heartbreak, sickness, terrorist attacks, and political turmoil, gratitude can so easily feel too far out of reach. Many of us have seasons in our life, maybe even right now, where “(Blank) is all wrong” leaves our lips much more frequently than “I’m thankful for (blank).”
But what if we looked at gratitude not as a reaction when everything is great, but as a necessary response under all circumstances - the good, bad, ugly, sad, and beautiful?
Melody Beattie, author and expert on codependency, writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” She’s not denying the chaos, confusion, lack, smallness, or even fear. She’s simply suggesting that we change our perspective.
Gratitude, then, becomes a choice rather than only a feeling, an outlook on life rather than a momentary whim. Sure, sometimes things are simply marvelous and we deeply feel thankful in that moment. But those other times, when life feels ugly and terrifying, we do not naturally feel like giving thanks. We naturally feel miserable. But this is when must choose gratitude anyway and make it the lens through which we see everything.
Making the decision to give thanks often requires that we step outside of ourselves and outside of the fog to thank the universe for things that may not have crossed our minds before: the warm sun on a cold day, toenails to paint, lungs that breathe even while we’re sleeping, options at a grocery store, or mail that has our name on it proving we have an identity.
This deliberate gratitude translates into a better attitude. We begin to flip the script on our lives. Instead of “I have to,” we can feel thankful that we “get to.” Instead of looking in the world in fear of everything that can go wrong, we can look around us at everything going right. Even if all you can think of is a beautiful sunset or your favorite sweater.
You see, when we choose gratitude, we are actually practicing self-care. We remind ourselves again and again that we are worthy of a good life, so we refuse to be taken down by the mess. We are combatting fear and surrounding our lives with good vibes.
To be clear, this isn’t denial. Thankfulness isn’t about pretending life is not hard sometimes (or a lot of the time.) The poet Jack Gilbert wrote these beautiful words: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” He knew life is hard and didn’t deny that fact, but he knew we must be stubborn enough to choose gladness, a form of gratitude, anyway.
In a few days, maybe some of us will sit down with family at a Thanksgiving table, maybe some of us won’t. Maybe Thanksgiving brings the happiest memories, or maybe it’s a ticking bomb of bad memories. No matter the circumstance, we can use this holiday as a reminder: we deserve to live a life that is not bogged down by the mess, but a life that chooses a perspective of deliberate gratitude.