“There is no joy without gratitude.” – Brené Brown
I don’t know how many of you have a gratitude practice per se, where you make a conscious daily effort to identify at minimum one (and ideally up to three) things each day for which you are grateful. I typically tend to be pretty informal with my approach to gratitude, though lately I have been deliberately making myself write down one thing each day for which I am grateful, trying to be more intentional in my approach to gratitude.
I do tend to think of gratitude as going into one of two buckets- one is the “basics”, those things that allow us to do life on a daily basis. For those who know my life, my number 1 on this list would be my Mama, who keeps my home and non-professional existence “on the rails” so I can focus on (1) work and (2) chasing joy. While Mama C is anything but basic, she is definitely the key to my daily life. Other basics? My menagerie. This beautiful home. Having a career that I am truly passionate about and feel blessed to “do.” My teams- clinical, administrative, and scholarly. Adventures. My running friends. Hopefully you get the main idea.
Bucket #2 for gratitude is more complicated because it’s predicated on those hard things that happen in life. While I’ve had at most a handful of these things (again, another basis for gratitude!), it can be too easy to “silver lining” them and to not dive into the real learning that happens from them. In 1990, as I started my 2nd year of graduate work at CU-Boulder, my apartment burned and I lost everything except for a cat I carried out with me and the pair of pajamas I was wearing at 3 am. The easy lesson here would be that it led me to what I’m really supposed to do with my life (partially true), or that it gave me an opportunity at age 21 to start over (really true, but not an experience to be wished for). While those things may be true, the basis for gratitude around the experience is more complicated. I learned how resilient I am. I learned how amazing people in my life were and are. And I learned how to live the Buddhist principle of non-attachment in a way we seldom get to in our lifetime.
The gratitude for hard things should be rare, and it’s something that takes both time and distance to fully process; it was more than a decade before I could make it past September 10 without being conscious of what had happened on that date. Basic gratitude is where that daily practice comes in that helps us find meaning, joy, and keeps us whole. It can be incredibly easy to forget to be grateful for some of those things- after all, I did just throw a cat out of my lap for sinking her claws into my thigh- but they are the things that provide that day in, day out rhythm of life that ultimately can and should be a source of deep and abiding joy.
“Those days when I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations…those are the really good days.”- Ray Wylie Hubbard