It’s easy to talk about gratitude — and much harder to practice it.
This week, we will sit down with loved ones to share food and, ostensibly, offer thanks over what we’re grateful for. So often, though, the purpose of this holiday is obscured by the stress of travel, cooking, and navigating familial tensions. To celebrate Thanksgiving, we’re sharing podcasts with two perspectives on gratitude: gratitude as an idea and a practice, and a personal story about a brief moment of thanks during a period of intense struggle. Both ground us in the spirit of this ritual.
David Steindl-Rast is a Benedctine monk, and the founder and senior adviser of the Network for Grateful Living. In an interview for her show On Being, Krista Tippett talks with Steindl-Rast about the notion of gratitude as process, a sort of psychic fullness. He describes it as “like the bowl of a fountain when it fills up, and it’s very quiet, and still, and then when it overflows, it starts to make noise, and it sparkles, and it ripples down.”
This is how gratefulness feels: like a bowl filling up and spilling over.
Steindl-Rast has a simple formula for practicing gratefulness: stop (recognize the moment), look (really see what the opportunity is), and go (avail yourself of that opportunity for gratefulness). This is a practice, taking repetition and attention in times both good and bad. “Not for everything that’s given to you can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or sickness, things like that. So the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but in every moment.”
Of course, theories of gratitude can be very difficult to apply in daily life.
In “This Moment is Worth It” (ARRVLS), Robert Myers shares a first person account of a very, very difficult Thanksgiving. It was 2008, the year of the financial crisis. He had two young kids, one of whom was struggling to adjust to daycare. Robert was stressed out at work, and he wasn’t seeing his wife much. He fell into a bad depression. Oh, and Thanksgiving was around the corner.
Robert and his family had a long, arduous drive to visit his mom and her family. The gathering was tense with old grievances and bad habits. And then, Robert had a completely unexpected respite, while sitting on a beanbag chair in the local library, when for a moment it all fell away.
“I think what I was really thinking in that moment was, ‘Oh. There was all this irritation, and all this frustration, starting at the very beginning of this journey for Thanksgiving. And I’ve been miserable this whole time. But, this moment is worth it.’ And what I remember about this moment was, it just felt like I could breathe.”
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you choose to celebrate.