Is gratitude a first class ticket to happiness? Is it a feeling? Is it a habit? Is gratitude a light we bask in? Does it start with an outward expression of thankfulness or an internal recognition and understanding of connection? Gratitude is word I’ve studied and kept a close eye on in the last year. I’ve been surprised to discover that gratitude in very simple terms is the product of paying attention. When we pay attention we see into the life of things. When we pay attention we rise from the murky depths of blind ingratitude to an awareness of the light of life’s many gifts. But life is not always sunny. Into each life rain falls and storms threaten to undue our best laid plans and work. Rainy Mondays happen. Dirty dishes pile up. The kids get colds. The roof leaks. The fridge breaks down. A partner becomes ill. A parent dies. Our best laid plans fall through a hole in the floor. We don’t ‘feel’ grateful in these moments. This is where our feelings let us down but our habits sustain us. Our ability to transcend life’s messy moments or serious tragedies is in direct correlation to our ability to be delighted by life and in turn grateful. As Julia Cameron wisely says,
“the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”
I would humbly add, the gift of paying attention and the capacity for delight is gratitude. Gratitude isn’t politely saying ‘thank you’, ticking a box and dusting off our hands. Gratitude is recognizing life for the gift that it is, in triumph and tragedy and everything in between. My grandmother died on a sunny day on the other side of an ocean at the height of a pandemic. But she had maps in her house that we spent hours looking at together throughout my childhood. Istanbul was her favorite city. On the day she died I could see, through a heart wrecked by grief, that the morning light was shining just so on the sweet peas in the garden, a garden cultivated in a foreign land. Sweet peas became a symbol of my grandmother’s life, the maps, her love of adventure and travel. I am grateful for my grandmother’s life, the time we spent pouring over her maps and the English sweet peas growing in my garden. If I hadn’t been paying attention the story could have been, my grandmother is dead. I’m stuck in another country in the middle of a pandemic far from my tribe. Both stories are true. But in Spring when I see and smell the sweet peas growing in our garden, I am reminded of my grandmother and her adventurous spirit. My grandmother was a gift, the sweet peas were a gift, life, even in grief, is a gift. Happy Wednesday from our garden to yours.