Gratitude as Discipline

I’ve become the Ebenezer Scrooge of Thanksgiving.

Now that the cultural season of gratitude is peaking, I’m experiencing an unreasonable, unexpected, self-righteous, curmudgeonly attitude towards my fellow social networkers. As people post their heartfelt expressions of appreciation publicly, I find myself thinking, “Yeah, yeah, try doing that every day for 98 days and see how you feel then.”

I listen to my thoughts and I don’t like them. I’m bitchy. For lack of a better hypothesis, I think I might have poisoned my approach to gratitude.

Let me back up. On August 18th, I began — and have pretty much followed through on (give or take 24 hours) — listing six items for which I am grateful each day.

I created one rule for the endeavor — no repeats. So, early on, when I first started, I got to list things which bring me great comfort every day: Breath. Sun. Time. Andy. Memories. Computers. Water. Plumbing. Coffee. Family. Chess. Love. Song. Washing Machines. Health.

By now, I’ve added around 582 different items to the list. How wonderful. Not.

These days when I sit down to do this chore of asking myself, “What am I grateful for?” The first things that come to mind are usually the same: Time. Andy. Memories. Family. Love. Breath. Water. Health. Given that these things are already on the list, they are disqualified. So, my mental pattern has become to dismiss that which I’m most grateful for, “No, it’s already on the list . . . what else?”

How awful to shrug off gratitude for: Time. Andy. Memories. Family. Love. Breath. Water. Health.

I’m not ready to scratch the whole project yet because it does offer an opportunity for creativity. “Health” on one day is listed later as “Continued better health — more energy today.”  And I’m finding ways to articulate gratitude for specific moments and situations, like, “Parents (mine),” later make the list again in the form of , “Phone calls with Mom,” and, “The anticipation of Mom & Dad’s arrival.”

And then there are the ways that each day’s list can be its own short poem, like:

Pen pals. Pen portrait (a specific one, in an out-of-print book from far away). Ballpoint pens. Sean Penn. A dog named Penny. International PEN.


Photographs. Flickr. Facebook. Friends. Friends of friends. Falling asleep.

What I’ve learned so far is that I need to make space for gratitude separate from this blogged list. I need to maintain appreciation for the biggies like Water, and Health, and Love. And I need to choose my thoughts wisely and not allow the old curmudgeon in me to take over.

So, to all of you who recently made your FB status update an acknowledgement of what you’re grateful for, I want to thank you for reminding me of the spirit of Thanksgiving. You’ve helped me restart my attitude.

To paraphrase something I heard Nicholas Kristof say in a recent lecture, most of us reading this have won the lottery of life. In other words, chances are, your experience as a human here and now includes more comfort and pleasure than most people have in most of the world, and even more comfort and pleasure than was available to the most powerful beings throughout most of history. “More, more, most, most” . . . If I didn’t have a pumpkin dessert to bake, I’d rewrite this ending.

To a day of savoring: thank you, friends.


November — NaBloPoMo — Day Twenty-four


4 thoughts on “Gratitude as Discipline

  1. I really like this post. :) 582 items?! Sheesh! That is a lot of things to be grateful for. I have a lot of stuff too.. I can never just think of it all at the same time.

    Happy Thanksgiving. :)

    Oh, these came about on a daily basis…. 6 per day since 8/16. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Darlene. ~Ruth

  2. I think I’d have a hard time with that list too. But it does seem like a way to stretch your imagination.

    But yeah, I can see how you’d get grumbly over everyone’s “health, family, friends” posts this weekend. :)

    Thanks for validating my scrooginess. :) ~R

  3. Oh. I feel like my cup of gratitude is overflowing. I don’t know why this year feels any different than the years before. I am busier and poorer
    (financial poor) than I have ever been in my life. Maybe I feel better because I am back to church regularly for the first time since I was a teen. I don’t know. I just don’t want it to end.

    Great post! “Photographs. Flickr. Facebook. Friends. Friends of friends. Falling asleep” are all great things to be thankful for.

    Thanks, Napmom. I’m so glad you’re feeling abundance. :) xoR

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