Gratitude: Let’s Go Deep

There are a lot of things that can change our perspective for better, and for worse, and I’m thinking about that now, because the newsletter reflection I’m working on for next week is from Harper Lee, and it’s all about the perspective that we have.

I know from my work in foster care, and running a summer reading camp for underprivileged kindergartners that living in poverty when we’re young is one of those things that can literally (cognitively, if you will) narrow a person’s sense of what is possible in life. The same thing is true, no matter what socioeconomic bracket you come from, for anyone who has suffered the Traumas of abuse or neglect as a child, or an adult. This is true of other Traumas like rape, or surviving war. And anyone who suffers from the smaller traumas of life – a car accident, a physical injury, living with chronic pain, or just the ongoing micro-aggressions of living in a chaotic environment and not having much control over it… all these things (and more!) can serve to narrow a person’s vision, metaphorically. It narrows their sense of what is possible, of how many options they have, of what kind of perspective they can have on life.

But it doesn’t stop there, because there are things we can do that can widen our perspective, too.

Gratitude is the first thing on the top of my mind that can change our perspective. Now, gratitude doesn’t ignore what is going wrong in your life. It doesn’t justify or support those who might have wronged you, or a system of active oppression that is keeping you down. Gratitude is a purely personal emotion, a feeling that you can choose to have about the things that are going right in your life.

Gratitude is a useful exercise because our fabulous and amazing brains are wired to look for all the things that are going wrong in our lives, really, so we can avoid dying that way. It’s an evolutionary trait that has served us very well. It also keeps us incredibly stressed out when we don’t balance it. Gratitude helps to balance the natural hard-wired way our brains focus on the negative.

(So if you’re focusing on the negative in your own life right now, and not really sure you have anything to be grateful for, you are not alone!)

So what could you be grateful for? Let me give you a list. I’m certain most of these basic things will apply to you, even if some of them don’t.

  • Your Technology – you’re reading this on some sort of device, and whether it’s cutting edge, or very outdated, you have a connectivity that the most powerful people on Earth would have killed for, three hundred years ago.
  • Running Water – one in four people don’t have access to safe drinking water, right now. You have it in your own home, and likely there is more than just one tap. ( According to the, 2 billion people don’t have safe drinking water access in the home. You do.
  • Hot Water – after a long day, you can go take a hot shower, or if you have a bathtub, go have a soak. You don’t have to heat that hot water over a stove, either. It just comes out of the tap hot.
  • A Home – from the largest mansion to the smallest shared room in a nursing home, you’ve got a place to eat, to sleep, to take care of yourself, and to hold the possessions that matter to you most.
  • Affordable Clothing – say what you like about fast fashion, between discount stores and used clothes stores, we can afford to clothe ourselves, no matter what our budget is – and we can dress appropriately for work (whatever that means, for whatever work you’ve got) and leisure, both.
  • Your Literacy – you can read this. And I’ve been told more than once that I sometimes lapse into vocabulary few can follow with complete ease. You are not one of the 12% of the world who are functionally illiterate (the UNESCO definition of which is being able to read, write, and calculate well enough to do all the things you’ve got to do in your particular life), nor are you one of the 21% of Americans who are functionally illiterate. (
  • Your Food – you have enough to eat, every day. According to the USDA, 10.2% of Americans go to bed hungry. According to the WHO, 9.8% of the world’s population experiences food insecurity. That’s 828 million people, and you’re not one of them.

And you know, that’s just the most basic list. There are other things which will apply to some of you, but not everyone:

  • Your Health – honestly, if you’ve got less than five things actively wrong with you, it seems like that might count as a miracle these days, so that’s definitely something to be grateful for.
  • Your Pets – if you’ve got them, love on them, and let yourself feel how grateful you are for their companionship.
  • Your Loved Ones – whether your family is born or found or married into, if you’ve got people close to you whom you appreciate, that is something beautiful.
  • Music – if you appreciate music of any kind, that is something to be grateful for! The artists and composers who created it, the means by which you listen to it, and the music itself for lifting you up, keeping you sane, and holding you steady.
  • Art – if you appreciate art of any kind, that is something to be grateful for, just like music! The artists who have created it, the means by which you get to enjoy it, and the art itself for inspiring, comforting, and challenging you.
  • Craft – like making things? Whatever it is, from dinner to beer, to pottery to blankets to books, your capacity to make stuff is something to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter if the end product isn’t always as you envisioned, what matters is that you have the capacity to do it, regardless, and that is something to be grateful for.
  • Your Income – even if it’s not as big as you’d prefer, it exists, and it pays your bills. This is something to be grateful for.
  • Your Experiences – something in the past that happened and it was good. Maybe it was the birth of your child. Or visiting a beautiful place. Or an amazing conversation you had with a mentor. Or a pet you loved, who is no longer with you. Whatever it was you experienced in the past, you can be grateful for that, too.
  • Your Stuff – most of us are blessed with an overabundance of it, and much of it we value very highly. Whether your a minimalist with only a few hundred items to your name, or a collector of many things with many collections besides, you can be grateful for your stuff.

So those are the lists. Go ahead and pick one thing that works for you. Then take a moment and a deep breath. Hold in your mind the thing you’re choosing to be grateful for right now. Then… stop thinking, and start feeling. Feel grateful. Let the feeling blossom and grow as you breathe deeply in, and deeply out. Don’t worry about thinking about gratitude, or the thing you’re choosing to be grateful for. Thinking is a good start, but it’s not what gratitude actually is – it’s a feeling, not a thought.

And it’s a feeling that can slowly and gently widen our perspectives, when we choose to engage in it regularly.

And since I can think of another five things to widen perspective off the top of my head, maybe I’ll turn this into a series. :) If I do, I’ll add some links right about there, to the rest of the series.

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