Gratitude: what does it mean?
When I googled the word, I came across several definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster
dictionary, gratitude is being appreciative of benefits received.
As humans, we make meaning of words, and we have our own experience with those words and meaning.
For me, gratitude – looking for things I appreciate – has not always been a good thing. In the past, I kept looking for things to be grateful for instead of seeing the reality of my life. Misplaced gratitude helped keep me stuck in a toxic environment.
Yet when I used gratitude in a balanced way I had a very different experience.
We were set an exercise to think of three things we were grateful for before we went to bed every day, then write a blog about it.
Another part of the exercise was to write a letter to someone we were grateful to and read it to them.
I’m a bit of a rule follower, so I struggled with the timing of the exercise. I kept forgetting to do it at night.
My mind started running with: you’re not doing it right; you’re meant to do it every day, at night. I started getting anxious and it wasn’t a fun exercise.
So, I thought, I need to be kinder to myself and more flexible.
I began by just doing the exercise whenever I thought of it. That worked – and sometimes I thought of it at night. I had to change the rules to suit me.
When I started trying to think of three things, I felt enormous resistance. My body would become heavy, and all I could feel was negative emotions. Wow, who thought such a simple exercise would be so hard?
I realised I was overthinking it.
Start easy: my dog, my car, my job. Okay, done. Breathe a sign of relief.
I did this for a few days, and it got easier.
Then one day I was hanging clothes on the line and I heard my adult daughter call out, “Mum!”
Suddenly and spontaneously, I felt gratitude completely fill my whole body and mind. My heart felt like it was swelling with gratitude for my amazing daughter. Wow, this is cool.
A gratitude letter
I found writing the gratitude letter surprisingly easy. I chose my husband – he’s a really good guy and deserves to be told how great he is.
I started thinking about what I would write, and realised how much I take for granted, and how I still keep him at arm’s length in some ways. I think after domestic violence it’s difficult to trust closeness, even with a worthy person.
The more I thought about how grateful I am to him and for him, the closer I felt to him. I could feel my heart swelling with gratitude for this “good” guy.
So now, after a shaky start, most days I think: what am I grateful for? I choose three things and move on.
It’s become easy, and I love that feeling when gratitude spontaneously appears and fills me up.