Last week, I was asked to take part in a social-media driven campaign known as the Gratitude Challenge. I accepted the offer and as directed, over the next 5 days, I posted several entities for which I am grateful. The entities ranged from family and friends (the usual suspects) to my college experience and the knee surgeries I had, way back when.
Now, however, as I reflect on gratitude – from a distant perspective, where I’m not challenged to reflect on it – I have a sort of different approach. It would be too cliché to simply say, I am grateful for everything that I have. Because, really, am I grateful that I had a mouse dart across my kitchen floor one morning, while my dog sat in the other room, looking at me, as if he were saying, What? What’d I do? Wanna play? No, okay. Maybe later. Or what about the cobwebs in the shed? Or the dust bunnies under my couch?
Clearly, not all of our possessions or attributes are worthy of gratitude.
So, what does it mean to be grateful? That I cannot complain when the batteries in my remote control die, because complaining would somehow take away from the luxury of owning a television. That I cannot scream when the person driving in front me cuts me off, because screaming would somehow take away from the comfort of having a reliable car to get me from place to place. Or that I cannot get frustrated with automated telephone prompts, because bearing frustration would somehow take away from the privilege of having a credit card, when many people don’t even have good credit.
I’ve come to this place, this house really, like the one Robert Frost wrote about in his famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. A house that I own, but don’t have to relegate myself to. I can venture outside of the house, knowing that I can return anytime I want. I can yell and scream about the batteries in my remote dying, or the lady cutting me off, or the annoying telephone prompts, because, when night falls – just like I will return home – I will see how trivial these annoyances truly are. That doesn’t mean I cannot get annoyed, it only means that I will not let such annoyances taint my perspective and blur my vision of the world. That I will not let dead batteries ruin the game of Monopoly I’ll play with my wife. That I will not let that woman who cut me off enrage me to the point that I speed out of control and put other drivers in jeopardy. That I will not let the automated telephone prompts stop me from getting my questions answered or paying my credit card bill on time.
I’ll admit it – I don’t wake up with a smile on my face every morning, I don’t wave hello when someone flips me off (although, sarcastically speaking, maybe I should!), and I don’t scream in excited when my dog won’t catch the mouse in my kitchen. But, but – there’s a big fat, hoooowever. I’ve also made up my mind to not let daily challenges, frustrations, annoyances (or whatever you want to call them) stop me from seeing and appreciating treasures such as this great September weather (which I’ve been looking forward to, since June), and football season being back (which I’ve been looking forward to, since February), and the house that I own (which gives me a place to finally call home).
So, maybe gratitude is a mindset, instead of a possession. A mindset of not allowing yourself to be defeated, consumed, or jaded by life. Life can be stressful, there’s no doubt about that. But perhaps gratitude demands that we adjust to life and remain flexible; and that we accept alternatives and remain open for new possibilities; and that we make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of everything we have, everything we have worked for, and everything we’ve grown out of. That we be show gratitude whenever we can, however long we can, for as often as we can.
All in all, gratitude is like the house in the Robert Frost poem, that you can come back to, when the temperature drops and a frigid chill takes over the air. Gratitude, my friend, is a place where you can live, but not feel confined to. The glass may be half-empty or half-full, and it’s okay to see it either way. So as long as you remember that when your glass is completely empty, at least you have your dog, staring at you and wagging his tail, as if he’s trying to say, Ready to play?
You’ve been great. Now enjoy “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.