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Gratitude is a State of Being

I'm just gonna put it out there: this time of year is weird for me. It's hard to ignore the disconnect between what the holiday season should represent, versus what it's become. We tell ourselves that the holidays should be a time of gathering, of goodwill toward our fellow humans, a time to recognize how much we already have. Then we rush off to complete a gauntlet of holiday errands, gift-buying, and cram in dozens of rushed gatherings over the span of a week. A time that should be about rest, reflection, and gratitude gets spun out into a consumerist nightmare.


I wonder where the concept of gratitude rightfully fits into the consumerist capitalist scheme of things. In a culture dominated by the incessant pursuit of more, we often reduce gratitude to another to-do on a checklist – a daily ritual of jotting down things we are thankful for. While this practice can certainly be beneficial, it seems to me that true gratitude extends far beyond a mere exercise. Rather, I see gratitude as a profound state of being, a lens through which we more fully appreciate and engage with the world.


Gratitude exercises, such as keeping a daily journal, have gained in popularity in self-help circles. These practices encourage individuals to list things they are grateful for, aiming to cultivate a positive mindset. While this approach can be helpful as a kind of "gateway to gratitude", I wonder whether it might fall short of capturing its true depth. The danger lies in reducing gratitude to a routine, where the emphasis shifts from a genuine appreciation of life to a mechanical task to be completed like just another chore.


In my experience, gratitude, at its core, is a state of being that transcends the confines of a checklist. It involves a profound shift in perspective, a recognition that happiness is not contingent upon acquiring more, or on external conditions at all. It's about realizing that amidst the chaos of life, there exists a place within us that is peaceful, content, and that can access joy and wellbeing, right here, right now. In other words, gratitude is the insight that true contentedness comes not from satisfying our never-ending cravings and desires, but in freeing ourselves from their grasp.


Cultivating true gratitude begins with the power of recognition – acknowledging the abundance that surrounds us. A daily journal might indeed be helpful in this regard. However, it's important to avoid reducing gratitude exercises to rote expressions of thanks for the luxuries of life, but to also appreciate more intangible and often overlooked blessings, such as good health, meaningful relationships, and even your next breath. This recognition of "enoughness" forms the foundation of a gratitude-driven life, fostering contentment and joy irrespective of external circumstances.


In this time of holiday excess, it's important to remember that true gratitude by necessity involves cultivating an anti-consumption mindset. It prompts us to question the necessity of accumulating excess belongings and reassess our priorities. As gratitude takes root, the desire for constant consumption diminishes, replaced by a profound appreciation for the richness of experiences, relationships, and personal growth.


Consumerism thrives on the idea that acquiring more will lead to greater happiness. However, this pursuit often leaves us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, as the joy derived from material possessions is fleeting, and the next shiny trinket, vacation, or accolade lies tantalizingly around the next bend. Gratitude is a powerful counterforce to the inertia of desire. It invites us to step off the consumerist treadmill and recognize that, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh would put it, we already have more than enough conditions in this moment to be happy.


As gratitude becomes a state of being, it naturally leads to a more loving and compassionate way of interacting with the world. When we acknowledge the abundance in our lives, our hearts open to the needs and struggles of others. Empathy flourishes, and a genuine desire to contribute positively to the lives of those around us emerges. Gratitude, in this sense, becomes a catalyst for fostering a more interconnected and loving global community.


Gratitude is not a passive state, or a shallow checklist; it is a call to live with intention. By embracing a gratitude-driven mindset, we become more intentional in our choices, focusing on what truly matters rather than succumbing to societal notions of wealth or abundance. This intentional living aligns with sustainable practices and necessitates a more conscious approach to consumption, reducing the environmental impact of our lifestyles.


This holiday season, I invite you to deeply examine how you embody gratitude in your day-to-day life, and how you might reframe your relationship to consumption. Maybe it's a matter of only gifting consumables or eco-friendly products to loved ones, or perhaps you and your family decide to skip out on the tenth family gathering to have some much-needed downtime together. Whatever you choose, you'll be gifting yourself and your loved ones the most valuable possession of all: the gift of enough.

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