My Favourite Reason Why Having a Gratitude Practice Matters: Living in Gratitude is Simply An Honest Approach to Life

Photographer: Matthew Henry

Photographer: Matthew Henry

Two years ago a high school student, originally from Pakistan, shared a story with me about how power outages in his hometown were a daily occurrence, usually lasting for several hours. People adapted, he said, by doing their cooking and studying while the power was on, knowing that it would likely not last. He also mentioned the excitement that he and others experienced every time the power came back on. Ironically, he nostalgically mentioned that he kind of missed the joyful community celebration centered around its restoration.

I love his story because it reminds me that even though I tend to think of electricity as a given, it really only exists because of both the technological advances of others and affluence within my community.  In fact, I was at a dinner the other night when a former provincial politician mentioned that rural electrification in Saskatchewan, my home province, occurred in the 1950’s and was an ambitious undertaking at the time. (For more information on this event and how a Saskatchewan priest and Premier played key roles go to https://www.producer.com/2018/10/electricity-forever-changed-life-on-the-farm/ .) And while uninterrupted power is clearly a good thing, it’s reliability and long-standing success within my community means that I get up and go through my day taking this privilege for granted.

Psychologists call people’s ability to get used to the good stuff in our lives, be it the electricity that powers our lights, or any other consistent privilege, adaptation. Adaptation means that when something great comes along, we initially feel grateful, but then adjust to expecting the new and wonderful thing in our life very quickly. And while adaptation means that people get used to the good stuff quickly and naturally seek to continue to improve on their lives, it also makes it challenging to feel gratitude for good stuff that we experience regularly.

When you think about it from the big picture, every social system, technological advance, piece of food that enters our bodies and many other things are due mostly to the efforts of many, sometimes even thousands of others from both our past and present. University of California professor and researcher Robert Emmons reminds us that expressing gratitude is simply an honest approach to life. 

He reminds us that we all grow from infancy to adolescence with almost complete dependency on others. That our daily lives and the advances we enjoy, usually without thought, took generations and often great hardship to develop, and of course many freedoms and discoveries were gained because of tremendous sacrifice. Being grateful daily for the contributions of all before and currently amidst us who worked to create a better future is simply acknowledging a profound truth within our lives.

The Paradox of DNA and Gratitude

To look at it another way, we could call it paradoxical that it is in our DNA to take our blessings for granted because those of us from developed countries are mostly living lives of extreme abundance relative to any other time period in humanity, and relative to the majority of the developing world.  And while adaptation helps us to look towards the future and how we can further improve our lives, it also means that we tend to assume what we have is a given, which simply is not the case.

Gratitude and mindfulness

Being programmed to get used to the good stuff in our lives is why a gratitude practice is so important.  It isn’t bad to look ahead and want to continue to improve our lives, but to lose the magic of being grateful for all of the aids and abundance in our lives is simply robbing ourselves of the ability to feel genuine joy for all that we have. A gratitude practice serves as an antidote to adaptation.

Choose one aspect of your life that benefits you and look at it with fresh eyes.

  • How was it created? Try and be as specific as possible in all of the steps required for it to be present in your life.

  • What is required to sustain it?

  • Who/what ensured this was available to you?

  • What opportunity resulted in it coming into your life?

  • What, specifically, about it, enriches your life?

  • How would your life be different without it?

Now, as you go through your week take time to notice one privilege daily that you’ve adapted to with fresh eyes. Add your one thing to either an audio or written blog.

Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is an understanding that life owes me nothing and that all the good I have is a gift....
— Robert Emmons

Until we next meet, wishing you a refreshed awareness of your abundance,

Leslie