Gratitude. Do you remember what it used to mean?
It was that feeling you had when you were nearly hit by a car as you crossed the road but it missed by that much (also linked very closely to 'relief').
It was what you didn't actually experience when your grandmother gave you a birthday present that was way too young for you and you were really disappointed (see 'ungrateful brat').
It was the emotion that rushed through you when your boyfriend arrived at the door and looked really cute and you felt hugely lucky to have him (also known as 'I can't believe he's mine!').
It wasn't a movement. It was a sensation. It was something that came from the heart, or didn't.
But gratitude has been packaged and commodified in our social media age. It is something that you 'practice', not feel, as part of a Way of Being.
It is something to be cultivated and shared, and expressed in public forums.
What are you grateful for today? people ask.
Today I am grateful for my cat, my hot coffee, this new assignment, they respond.
Gratitude is memes and blog posts and apps and Instagram pics. It is a way to live, to overcome depression, to ease anxiety, to enhance positivity. It is a panacea for all sorts of mental and emotional distress.
And yet... I'm not sold. I feel grateful when I'm grateful, which, admittedly, is a lot. I live a fortunate life. I have much to be thankful for. But when I'm anxious or distressed or in pain or sad, forcing gratitude for what is good can't fix my woes. Gratitude for my children or cat won't palliate my grief for my sister. Gratitude for my friends or parents can't heal a broken heart. Gratitude for having had two books published can't ease the anxiety over the third.
But many people I know practice gratitude, including someone unexpected. We discuss it below. And I would love to know your thoughts. Are you a 'grateful' person? What are you grateful for? Has it changed your life? Am I missing something?