This Little Miggy Stayed Home: Gratitude for the Sake of Gratitude

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gratitude for the Sake of Gratitude

Last week when I shared my Gratitude Tree tutorial I wanted to talk more about the discussion on gratitude we had with our girls at dinner that night.  We talked about gratitude as a way of seeing the world and the difference between seeing the world with gratitude and seeing the world without gratitude.  For example if I walk into the kitchen and there are pots and pans everywhere, dishes left undone from dinner I could think to myself, What a mess...this place is a wreck.   No one ever does the dishes unless I ask them too...  And so on.  However if I were to try and have a heart full of gratitude, I might walk into that same room and think, Wow, look at all this delicious food we have to eat, how wonderful.  I'm so lucky to sit down to dinner with my family every night, what an amazing blessing.  And look!  Running water, in my very own house with which to clean my dishes!  Fantastic!  

We explained that gratitude doesn't actually change the situation, but it changes how you see the situation...which I believe can actually change your heart.  It was really great to have this little discussion and see their brains starting to grasp a new concept, like Oh I can choose to be grateful....hmmm.   

But I want to take this one step further and discuss an idea that always seems to surface when talking about gratitude.  Almost every time I hear gratitude discussed it seems there is always someone who says talks about being grateful for something because it could always be worse.  

Now we all know about the pitfalls of comparing ourselves to other people when it makes us feel worse.  She's prettier, she's skinnier, they have more money than we do, she's a better mother than me, their home is always so clean...  We know we shouldn't do that.  So why is it OK to compare yourself to someone else to make yourself feel better?  Perhaps you see someone on the street who looks like life has been rough to them and so you suddenly feel grateful that life hasn't been as rough to you.  Or (and I think this happens a lot and is a one reason inspiration p*rn is harmful) looking at someone with disabilities and thinking, could always be worse.  I could be that guy.  

I would submit that this form of gratitude is not OK.  
Or at least, that it is not the ideal we should be shooting for.  

Full disclosure here, of course I am guilty of saying and thinking these things as well.  As much as I try to write from my heart and share things I feel strongly about, I hope you know that I know that I don't have it all figured out.  Sure we've all seen things, whether up close amongst family and friends or a world away on the news where we can say, I'm so grateful that's not part of my reality right now.  Because sometimes hard is just hard and no one wants more hard in their life... I get that.  

But the whole I am going to be grateful because it could always be worse is what I have a problem with.  First as mentioned it plays off a comparison and part of the problem is about this comparison game is that it's faulty.  We don't know the whole of someone else's story, so our comparison is based on limited information and just not accurate.  We know this when our comparisons make us feel bad, but the same holds true for comparisons that make us feel "blessed."  

But that's not even the point.  Gratitude for the sake of gratitude is the point.  

Because, even if our information is accurate someone else's truth has little bearing our own truth.  When we tell ourselves, things could always be worse, well what happens when things do get worse?  Are we no longer under obligation to seek gratitude?  Is gratitude only to be practiced when all our ducks are in a row?  For me I think of the the reasons I feel extra sensitive to this ideology, is that I hope no one ever looks at Lamp, or even reads the Special Needs Spotlight with a reassurance that they are more blessed because as they see these stories as evidence that life could always be worse.  Again, I get it... no one wants their child to have cancer, or difficult struggles, but like so many other families we are blessed.  

Perhaps my real issue is not making gratitude conditional, which is rather counterintuitive.  It is easy to be grateful for goodness, abundance, light, love and peace.  Yet I think the real test of a truly grateful heart is finding the good, thanking God, when life is not so free and easy.  Which really brings me back to the conversation we had with our girls.  Gratitude doesn't change the circumstances, just the way you see the circumstances, which then changes your heart.      

Instead of, It could always be worse may I suggest, There is always something to be grateful for.  

I think that needs to be stitched on a needlepoint.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well... do you think I'm way off or does this mentality bother you too?  What do you teach your kids about gratitude?  Do you even think it's that big of deal?  Truth be told this may be one of those things I recognize the need for but am not great at implementing in my own life--oi.  But I'm going to try to because I really do believe that there is always something to be grateful for and that gratitude is one of the keys to a happy life.  


  1. Read "The Hiding Place," it has forever changed how I think about gratitude.

    1. R--yup! One of my favorites. I was going to mention that book specifically.

  2. Amen. Seeing the world with grateful eyes IS the blessing. Neal A. Maxwell = something to the effect of, "gratitude is a gift, the possession of which we ought to be further grateful." Miss you and your kin.

    1. Miss you too! come visit us!

  3. My husband does this-- it truly makes him feel better knowing it could be worse and will then say some awful thing that someone else could be or is dealing with. I finally confided in him that him always saying that does not help me and it in fact makes me more depressed or upset knowing that while I am dealing with whatever it is we are dealing with that now I am even more upset that X is dealing with Y! Looking at this from the perspective of gratitude is poignant. Thank you for this insight.

  4. Love these thoughts. You have a gift with words. I love your blog. It's real and always makes me think a little deeper about things. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Anonymous7:53 PM

    How do you start teaching about gratitude? Are there any great kids books you use, does it come up naturally, or do you make a lesson and then follow up naturally?

  6. Yes. Right on. I've also benefited from reflecting on who I owe credit for the blessings in my life. It's so easy to give yourself credit for blessings that appear to be due to your hard work or talents or sheer awesomeness. But I see and feel additional blessings when I realize the (usually) many people who have contributed to blessing my life.

  7. What a beautiful, substantive, and thought-provoking post. You make some wonderful points. Thank you.

  8. So, I know someone whose baby had a relatively minor stomach surgery a while back. It was in a children's hospital where a lot of the cases were considered more critical. The dad was totally beside himself with worry. The person telling this story wondered why the dad wasn't calmer, seeing that there were so many others in the hospital who were worse off.

    This comparing mentality has always bothered me. I can see how my situation can always be worse, but I don't agree that seeing other's situations as worse than mine is at all beneficial to anyone.

    Thank you. I'm glad you blogged about this. I've had it in the back of my mind to blog about it, too. I still might.