What does it mean and why is it important to us as aging humans?
From a very young age we are admonished to be grateful for what we have, especially for the food on our plates. When kids whine about wanting new cool shoes or the latest computer game, often parents shut them down by reminding them to be grateful for what they have. In this case, the concept of being grateful is a powerful tool.
As adults, we come by it naturally. Historically, the masses have been lectured on being socially grateful as a way of shutting down dissent, keeping activists quiet, and not rocking the political boat. Religions, government, and corporations have long touted gratitude as a way of being, as a way to squelch uprising and follow the leader, often blindly.
Gratefulness is similar to being thankful, and during this season of thanksgiving there are reminders all around us that. Despite the terrible homelessness and food insecurity that hide in the shadows of our communities, generally speaking we are told that we should be grateful for the fact that we live in America, in communities where we have health care, and in neighborhoods where churches and nonprofits like COA provide food, services, and social enrichment. Gratefulness is a social tool that prompts us to help our neighbors.
These are the public faces of gratitude.
In the past couple years, much has been written about how being grateful can extend our lives and make us healthier and happier humans. Is gratitude truly that powerful of an emotion that it can extend our lives and bring us so much inner joy that we ward off disease and emotional affliction? Is it more than a useful societal tool to shut down dissent and selfish requests and remind us to be charitable?
New York Times bestselling author and American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes, “When we make a compassionate, fearless relationship with our inner gratitude, the reality of the human condition enters our emotions, and gradually something shifts fundamentally deep inside us.” This, from her book “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”, is a major theme. Maybe she’s on to something right beneath the surface that many of us have not quite grasped.
Prolific author Gary Zukav writes often about gratitude and posits that the billions of people on Earth are filled with regret and overwhelming experiences of pain, despair, discouragement, depression, starvation, and disease, resulting largely from the fact that so much of the human condition lives without reverence and gratitude.
In this two-part discussion of gratitude, we will explore further next month the current nexus of gratitude and emotional and physical wellness, and how the very nature of being grateful positively impacts our lives as individuals—much beyond the more global ideals of simply helping our neighbors in times of need.