We are systematically schooled away from gratitude.
It begins as soon as we start comparing ourselves with each other. We learn to do this at school (there’s always a better grade we should be getting). And, later, our workplaces often draw on our comparisons with others as a way of having us push harder (forced-distribution performance ratings set this up in particular, see here for more on this).
Add to this the deeply ingrained understanding, in the West at least, that human beings are intrinsically broken and not to be trusted, expressed most fully in the work of Augustine (see this post for more). In an increasingly secular society we hardly see how much we’ve internalised this orientation, even as we feel and fear and hide our sense of incompleteness from others.
And we’re subject to an endless wheel of media and marketing that gnaws and needles at our capacity to trust what we have. There’s always something newer, cheaper, more fashionable to own, and a whole set of comparisons which go along with this. How back-to-front is it that the American festival of thanksgiving has – at least in the UK where I’m writing – been expressed entirely as Black Friday, a chance to buy more and fuel our sense of lack? It’s a manipulative reversal of the opening to life that giving thanks is intended to inspire.
Gratitude can be hard to find in all of this. We get caught up in our self-pity and comparison and fear, drawn to everything that is missing, all that somehow was denied to us. We find ourselves in the grip of an enormous misunderstanding that we keep under wraps because we’re afraid of admitting just how afraid it has us become.
But… we have more resources and more freedom than just about anyone before us in human history.
… we live in a period of unprecedented geological stability that greatly increases the otherwise infinitesimally small chances of any of us being here (see Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything for more on this).
… and we are given the gift of a life that we had to do nothing to get, and a body with which to move and express and feel and love and contribute.
Are we really going to keep on fueling our cynicism and despair? Or are we prepared to wake up to just how great are the treasures we are always in the midst of receiving?