Gratitude

And we’re back! (American) Thanksgiving/ Turkey/Tofurkey Day prep ate up a lot of time last week, so I gave myself a pass on blogging. Sometimes making cornbread and pressing eggplant just takes precedence.

I’ve blogged about Thanksgiving here before. It’s a complicated sort of holiday. I dig the family time and the cooking and the drinking lots of wine / eating good food. The culture of Thanksgiving here in the U.S. is utterly grating because it’s shoehorned into our national mythology. But I don’t feel especially nationalistic this time of year. It makes more sense to me to think of Thanksgiving as a fall holiday or harvest feast day.

This doesn’t make the background of it any less problematic, mind you, and it is a worthwhile thing to reflect on the horrors of our country’s history.

But there’s subtler strain of weirdness in Thanksgiving and it’s right there in the name: Thanksgiving.

I always thought gratitude was a funny sort of emotion. Not necessarily in the way we genuinely feel it, but the way we talk about or expect it (I’m as guilty of this as anyone). It sometimes feels like the gold star we can accept as adults: “I did a nice thing–acknowledge my goodness!”

Of course, we know from feeling gratitude that it isn’t always easily summoned. Which means there are a lot of empty gestures of thanks. We know we should be grateful for various things in our lives, so we overact gratitude.

The other oddness about gratitude is that we often feel it in response to someone else’s lack. I’m sure you’ve encountered this–you hear about a friend’s misfortune and have a moment where you feel unreasonably lucky. It’s an uncomfortable gratitude. It pops up particularly in Thanksgiving rhetoric: “I’m grateful I have so much when so many have so little.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that we’re lucky–much of our lives are luck of the draw. And obviously many people work to right inequalities present in society. But there’s something profoundly unsatisfying about the way we think of and discuss gratitude, especially during this time of year. Maybe it’s because it’s seasonal and performative. Or it feels disingenuous. Or it simply feels wrong that others should be so lacking in basic human needs that we must summon this forced gratitude every year.

I don’t really know.

I can say honestly that I am genuinely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life–artistically, academically, professionally, personally. I’m grateful for the people close to me. I’m grateful to be healthy and mobile. Free of oppression and violence. I’m also grateful to live in a world where change is possible–and to be able to effect positive changes (however small) in the lives of others.

What are your thoughts on gratitude? What–if anything–are you grateful for?

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One thought on “Gratitude

  1. I’ve found that not believing in a deity has complicated this for me. If, at Thanksgiving, I say, “I’m grateful for my job” or whatever, to whom am I grateful? You say thanks *to* someone. If I don’t think there’s a being personally responsible for my position in life, then gratitude is entirely the wrong emotion. Fortuitous ends up being the next best answer, but “I feel lucky” doesn’t really fit into the Thanksgiving model. I just get kind of caught up in this and end up feeling very awkward about the whole thing.

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