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A Roundtable Discussion on Gratitude
Is practicing gratitude inauthentic? And other questions about intentional practice.
Hey everyone, this week I’m breaking from convention to examine viewpoints on gratitude. What is gratitude? Should we focus on it? Is it inauthentic to “practice” gratitude?
We just passed the fifth anniversary of IHD (the site isn’t quite that old but it's been five years since Shane and I began to collaborate on a project that would eventually morph into IHD). In these five years, we’ve written quite a bit on gratitude. We also devoted a significant aspect of the 30x30 to gratitude—it’s one of the three core habits that make up each day and the topic of one of the first lessons.
While we still feel that gratitude is a vital part of a good life, our thinking has evolved a bit. Today, I want to look at that evolution and highlight a few different approaches to gratitude as a sort of virtual roundtable discussion. These are articles from us, both from the distant past and recent months. I’ve also included some thoughts from other thinkers that I value. This reflection on how my personal thinking and practice have evolved has been very illuminating to me and I hope that you enjoy this nuanced look at gratitude in the modern world.
Demonstrations of Gratitude (3 min)
I wrote this in August of 2018 about the distinction between expressions of gratitude and demonstrations of gratitude. Expressing our gratitude is wonderful—it is important to tune our focus to all the good things in our lives and nothing builds an intimate connection better than telling someone how much you value their role in your life. However, this approach falls short of demonstrations of gratitude. In this article, I give the example of writing someone a short, handwritten letter instead of a phone call or email. The extra investment can go a long way.
Face Your Fear (14 min)
This is Shane’s telling of his struggle with Puro O, a form of OCD. His story is inspirational but the takeaway from the whole article is even more powerful. The greatest challenges that we face are always our greatest teachers. Understanding this and learning to lean into it as you face a present struggle is perhaps the most potent form of gratitude that we can practice.
Written only a few weeks ago, this is how my personal gratitude practice took on new significance. My old practice of considering all the positive forces in my life began to feel rote and forced. I’m not sure how this new practice emerged but it holds a much deeper place in my life than gratitude journaling or meditating ever did.
The Good World by Charles Eisenstein (5 min)
Similar to how my practices begin to feel forced, Charles sees a similar inauthentic quality in attempting to create feelings of gratitude. He asserts that real gratitude comes only from knowing that the world is good. I like this idea but also see the paradox that to “know” anything with certainty about the forces at play in the world might be considered an act of faith. This shift in perception also creates another paradox—how do we come to see the world in a different way without first practicing a new way of perceiving it? In our experience, innate perceptions and feelings of authenticity arise as a response to intentional practice, not the other way around. And for a bit more context, Shane and I have each looked at this paradox from different angles, here and here.
This is far from a comprehensive look at the research behind intentional practices such as Naikan journaling and gratitude meditation, but often a collection of anecdotes can be just as illuminating. We would love to hear your thoughts on gratitude and intentional practice as well. Please comment and tell us about any practice you follow. How has it evolved? Does it feel authentic? Did it always?
Thank you for reading this week and remember, life is too short to be normal!