“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”
Stephen Hawking from a New York Times Magazine interview appearing on December 12, 2004
I feel like gratitude has become such a cliche buzzword these days, but I also believe that it is an essential part of a happy life. I also believe that it’s a practice that has to be cultivated (yes, I also kind of can’t believe I just typed that and how pretentious it sounds). What I mean is that I think it is something that has to be practiced in order for it to come naturally. And that it’s something that goes beyond just being polite or thanking our fellow human beings for doing something nice. For sure, being polite is important and I strongly advocate for saying thank you to servers, people who hold doors open, etc., but “thank you” is often a mindless phrase. The kind of gratitude I’m talking about is intense and can be felt down to the very core of your being.
Thriving with a disability almost requires a good grasp of gratitude. Things can be tough and it can be frustrating to struggle with things that so many around you take for granted. I am, however, lucky in so many incredible ways and recognizing those things makes me feel far better than feeling sorry for myself. I know that many people keep gratitude journals and journal on a daily basis, but I don’t find that this routine works all that well for me. I prefer to remind myself of all of the things that I’m thankful for whenever I feel frustrated or envious. Initially, this was a conscious exercise, but at this point in my life, it’s become second nature. Practicing gratitude in this way also helps me stay in the moment, which is something I struggle with. I have a fairly lengthy commute and sitting in rush hour can be both frustrating and demoralizing, but when I remind myself that I’m commuting to/from a job I love, I suddenly have the capacity to appreciate the time to listen to podcasts and audio books and have some space to think. When holiday plans don’t end up looking like the Martha Stewart magazine spread I’d been aspiring to, a quick reminder that any holiday where J and I are not in the hospital is one that should be savored and enjoyed (the ones in the hospital have been enjoyed too, but it’s much better to be at home) and I’m back in a place where I can enjoy the day instead of worrying that food or table scapes are not ready for the pages of Martha Stewart Living.
While I firmly believe in some sort of gratitude practice and believe that it makes my life better, I am not unrealistic enough to think that it is the silver bullet to all of life’s ills. It would be Pollyannaish to expect gratitude to heal all of life’s ills, but it can make the hard stuff easier to tackle.