I wrote this article on gratitude 11 years ago at the age of 58. Reading it today at 70, this first paragraph is no longer true for me. I’m leaving it in anyway.
At 58, I am not one inch closer to satisfying my desires or avoiding my fears than at age 6. They have only changed form. It’s a losers’ game. Fear of pain and poverty and insatiable desire for pleasure and security haunt me. I have never gotten or achieved enough to quiet this. I awaken and go to sleep driven by thoughts of what I might do to earn more, to spend less, to further my career, my health, relationships, reputation. Desire for pleasure seduces: luscious sex, beauty, health, status, influence, power, wealth, clothes, homes, cars, food, leisure, travel. My thoughts are infected with the disease of want, insufficiency and never enough. Never!
Anxiety and fear are the inescapable background of my life. I am helplessly vulnerable, indefensible. A splash in the eyes of a chemical, a moment’s unawareness on the freeway, an unexpected medical test and my life becomes mired in misery. My children and family, reputation, marriage and career are all equally at risk. My mind is driven mad with fear. And, yes, I appear normal.
As a mortal, my happiness is hardwired to events, with my mood being dependent on Fortune’s fickle. But I am sick and tired of being unhappy. I want genuine happiness, and I want it with a passion. So I am striving to go directly for what I want most. I refuse to allow my most valued treasures, my peace of mind and happiness, to be destroyed by the spinning wheel of Fortune. Rather than letting external events dictate my happiness, I am training myself to look for the blessing and opportunity in every moment and circumstance, even illness and struggle.
I am learning to misuse my mind less. Just as I respect my body¹s needs for warmth, rest, food and water, I respect my mind¹s need to feel love and appreciation. It is made to blossom in the light of gratefulness. However it is a fool’s game to seek this from others. The only reliable source is myself. When I am expressing gratitude, I¹m happy.
No gratitude, no joy. Period.
The term “heliotropic” describes plants’ natural tendency to turn their faces toward sunlight. We humans are spiritual heliotropes. Our inner world of thoughts and emotions naturally turn towards the light of love and gratitude. It is our nature, our destiny to do this. Gratefulness is the spiritual light in which my mind becomes happy, intelligent and bright. Deprived of appreciation I cannot understand how life works. I cannot feel the fundamental goodness of life. I become unhappy, sad, disappointed, angry, apathetic, afraid, tired and sick. My soul becomes infected and oozes tension into my body. My countenance, posture, breath, movements, circulation, appetites, sleep and moods, every aspect of me becomes distorted and eventually sick. In the atmosphere of sweet gratefulness, my humor returns. I relax and smile, become creative, practical, intelligent, alert, full of energy and immune to everything.
My challenges are quickly consolidating into one; “What will I allow to capture my attention?” Will I allow myself to be seduced by desire and want or to be bullied by pain and anxiety? Or will my attention be employed in the service of appreciation?
My aspiration is that in every moment I would ask myself only “How much can I find to appreciate, and how sincerely, how deeply?” I aspire to search every situation until I find something, anything I CAN appreciate and then indulge myself shamelessly. I aspire to drink wantonly of gratitude until I become drunk and lose all perception of my former reality.
A teacher told me “All happiness for a reason is, in fact, misery. (Because the reason will change.) I’m discovering that the source of my feeling good is not in money, sunsets, my children or anything outside myself. Gratitude is not dependent upon any circumstance. It is the core longing of my soul. Gratitude is my own spirit, myself, my true nature. I love loving. Gratitude illumines the beauty in everything. Just as sunlight is essential perceive the color inherent in a flower, so the beauty, goodness and intelligence inherent in all creation requires the light of gratefulness for me to see it.
I especially enjoy shining gratitude on my own self. Previously I unconsciously restricted my expression of gratitude to conform with my default programming which reads: “These are the conditions under which you are allowed to feel deep gratitude: Winning the lottery, sex with a movie star and upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize…” Gratitude was scarce. Now my heart is filled with appreciation more because I choose to fill it, and less because I am impelled by fortunate circumstances!
As I grow more appreciative I find myself sometimes actually relishing challenging circumstances. My greatest happiness occurs in those precious times when I cannot find any obvious external reason to justify being grateful; such as in the face of loss, trauma, insult, or especially my own selfishness, laziness, cowardice and stupidity. Many times the best I can muster is the feeblest prayer for gratitude. Praying for gratitude is actually the first emergence into my consciousness of gratitude.
Abe Lincoln said “Most folks are about as happy (grateful) as they make up their minds to be.” We are free to choose how grateful we will be. Were it not so. If we could only feel grateful when the circumstances dictated; if our most cherished experience lay beyond our power, this would be slavery, not freedom. Happiness dependent upon circumstances is misery. But God designed me such that the one thing that I love and need above all else, gratitude/appreciation/love, is fully under my own control.
My body, possessions and reputation are all subject to circumstances. My spirit is not. Appreciation is an assertion of my innate freedom, evidence of my immortality. I am happy precisely and solely because I choose to be so. Joy does not get any more real.