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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Choosing Gratitude

My father was well past 80 when I first heard him express something resembling gratitude. Before that, his free-floating anxiety had kept him hostage in the Worry Zone, a difficult place to feel gratitude, let alone express it.

We—my step-sisters and I—had recently moved him and my step-mother into a pretty nice retirement facility near Chicago. Seated in their living room a few weeks later, my father, son of working class people who barely made it out of grade school, enthused, “I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury!”

Of course, he was never completely free of the Worry Zone, needing to visit it regularly, especially when it came to money or the condition of my mortal soul. (He apparently felt his was in slightly less danger.) But I think as he aged he may have tried harder to recognize how truly fortunate he was.

It took me somewhat less time than my father to achieve gratitude as an active pursuit: in my mid-50’s, finally acknowledging the full weight of growing up in an alcoholic home, I started attending Al-Anon meetings. It was there that I learned that gratitude was a choice, an “attitude” I had to purposely court and inhabit—even, and especially, in the darkest moments, that it was gratitude that would help me climb out of those moments.

And while I didn’t become a regular at Al-Anon, I am forever grateful for what I learned at those meetings about gratitude, which I try to express daily: while sitting down for a meal; on my frequent walks; while falling asleep and especially on waking; for the work I’m privileged to do; and for all those friends—some lifelong, others recent—who make my life so meaningful.

Then there’s gratitude on the grand scale: for this life, for this now quite long life. 

I still have miles to go to catch up to my father’s final years—he made it to 95—but I am grateful for one of the lessons of his long life: Better late to the gratitude table than never.


For more on choosing gratitude, read this great piece by Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times,
"Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier."

First, an excerpt from it:

It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” In the slightly more elegant language of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”

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