Taking Things for Gratitude

Lena-photo“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more.” —Melody Beattie

I write today in praise of failure. It’s time to embrace loss, give disappointment and regret a big high-five, and bestow a warm hug on frustration and fear. For without loss, failure, and regret, how would we ever learn how to appreciate peace, enlightenment, and serenity?

It’s high time to fist-bump gratitude.

Are you disappointed that I want to praise gratitude? It’s true that gratitude is really an antique notion, old-fashioned in our world of immediate (if not sooner) gratification. Gratitude is what most parents nagged us about when we were teenagers mortified by our wardrobes or despising our dinners. “At least you have shoes! Think of all the hungry children in the world!” While we probably didn’t end up feeling more grateful, we might feel guilty, but that’s not terribly productive or positive.

Sure, gratitude isn’t glitzy. It’s not a bucket of cash or newfound celebrity. It’s a quiet gift, not found in a store or online. Gratitude is located only within. And the hardest sell regarding gratitude is that it usually comes via experiences—and not very good ones, at that.

Recently I was in my car, in Los Angeles, driving to teach a private art class. Lost in a detour maze caused by the ceaseless construction on the freeway system, I grew deeply frustrated because I am notoriously early for everything and loathe being late. The radio was on, and the news relentlessly spewed stories of just how awful things are out there. As if I needed reminding.

I was about to snap the radio off in frustration when a story came on about gratitude. A woman writer was discussing how keeping a gratitude journal had changed her life. The concept of having to come up with 100 things a day to be grateful for floored me. But since I was stuck in traffic and not getting anywhere soon, I started reciting aloud what I was grateful for.

Sure, I was late and lost, but my stress level dropped, and my brain was soothed by the exercise of naming all the things in my life I am grateful for. Admittedly, by the end of my list of 100 things, I was grateful for my hair, working legs, and tea in my travel mug, but the mere act of reminding myself of all the little blessings and mercies I had taken for granted until this very moment became its own reward. My final thing to be grateful for was being lost—because if I had been on time to my class, I wouldn’t have heard the story about gratitude.

Of course, I write about gratitude from a first-world perspective. I am writing this in a warm home, with a warm, new(-ish) computer, a nice mug of tea and snack nearby. We have much to be grateful for in our country, yet all around me I see confusion, anger, denial, and greed.

As our lives speed up, the urge to consume grows: We crave food we don’t need, clothing we may never wear, the latest technology, relentless Facebook updates, and the next American Idols. We drown in credit card-itis due to a compulsion to spoil ourselves because of all we do, how hard we work, and how much we give. Yet we all carry around these black holes of need that we urgently try to fill with things. But as the bumper sticker says, “The best things in life aren’t things.” (Sad but true that most of my inspirational reading comes from sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405.)

The truest treasures are, ironically, to be gleaned from the hardship, humility, and loss that we cannot escape in day-to-day living. My older brother, Phillip, is severely autistic and has never spoken. Our parents have passed away, so I am his conservator. I do not state this to garner empathy or to guilt anyone into being grateful that they are NOT me. It is simply one of the facts of my life.

And while my reality might fill another person with dread, I am truly and humbly grateful for my brother and what he teaches me every day. His world may be small (compared to the rest of us) and more routine-oriented than most, but it is the very simplicity of his routines that provides a great source of comfort to us both. We hang out and make cupcakes and collaborate on art. My home is filled with my brother’s needlepoints that I designed for him. I’ve befriended the families of his housemates, and finding like-minded and wonderful people who know exactly how my life feels is immeasurably gratifying. Having my brother in my life has deepened my well of patience and empathy and made me sensitive to the needs of those I might otherwise try to avoid.

If I could be anything in the world, I’d love to be a gratitude fairy. I’d walk around the mall and gently bop people bogged down with bags and iPhones and Androids on the head with my magic wand. All I’d want to impart to them is the gift of gratitude. If we all took the time every day to list (in no particular order) what we are grateful for, we’d realize that we already have everything we think we need.

As a friend who had just gotten over two weeks of flu recently said, “I just learned that happiness is the absence of want.” She was so grateful to no longer be sick that she was almost unrecognizable, beaming as she was with health and newfound serenity.

Of course, gratitude alone won’t make us less hungry. We need clothes and food and shelter and other people to complete our lives.  But there are graces to be found in hardship, winnings to be scraped out of losses, and valuable lessons to be gleaned from heartbreak. Imagine how a single, daily dose of gratitude would impact advertising, fashion magazines, and endless television commercials. We’d probably even save money on gas if we found what we were seeking was already lurking within our own quietly beating hearts.

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  • Adrian

    Adrian

    January 31st, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more.”

    Thank you so much for these inspiring words! This is so true in life. When we are thankful for what we have and see the good in that, then that is all we need. There is just no need to dwell on what we don’t have, for I firmly believe that we are given everything in life as a blessing- but it is up to us to see how that little gift fits into the puzzle of our lives.

  • Blake

    Blake

    January 31st, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    Amazing that simply taking just a small amount of time out of your day remembering the things that you are grateful for, and that you need to work on being more grateful for, can make such a positive impact on your life. Reduces stress, creates more goodness in your life, and can actually encourage you to do more to give back to others. Why wouldn’t I want to take just a little more time on a daily basis being thankful for the many things that I have been given that I have never even thought to say Thank You for before?

  • Ira Bindman

    Ira Bindman

    January 31st, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    In my own life, gratitude is what turned my complaining into joy. Feeling that I am blessed allowed me to transform my thoughts and behavior in a positive direction. I recommend gratitude to everyone. It’s the antidote to sadness, depression and hurt. Certainly we need to feel those things but, in the end, realize that we are held in divine love whether or not we believe it in the moment.

  • Terry Laszlo-Gopadze

    Terry Laszlo-Gopadze

    January 31st, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    This was a wonderful article Lena!!! A good reminder that we can focus on all we do have, even in the most stressful times! Bravo!

  • StressMom

    StressMom

    February 1st, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    I was so moved by the fact that you have to take care of your brother and yet you do not take this on as something that is a burden in life but rather something to be thankful for, having him in your life.

    I know that I am the world’s worst at many times choosing only to see the things that are going wrong and failing to look at all of the things that surely outweigh this and are going right.

    Why when I am so blessed in so mnay ways do I choose to only look at things in such a negative way? I hope that by reading this it will be something that I can look back on for guidance when I need it because I want to lead a fuller and happier life but I know that the first step begins with being more grateful for the numerpus blessings that I have been given.

  • victoria larrea

    victoria larrea

    February 1st, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Hello Lena,
    Thank you for sharing. I believe in gratitude, and I like your reminder. I have never made a list of 100 things, but I like the idea of making a daily one (maybe not of 100). I also enjoyed your reference to the perspective from a first world country — pretty much nothing to complain about when we have so much.

  • Kenneth

    Kenneth

    February 1st, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Human needs are few. Everything else is just wants. If we are able to differentiate between the two we’d be much happier. Sure there are things that we may not be able to get by without, things that are not necessities but something we are used to. But that in no way means we should take them for granted. Being grateful for each one of them not only helps us in assessing out real needs but also helps us enjoy each of them much more than before.

  • Liz Brown

    Liz Brown

    February 3rd, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Thank you, Lena. Why do we all hold onto the weird “comfort” of fears, worries and anxieties? Thank you, with gratitude, for your words of wisdom: inspiring, encouraging, challenging………and comforting (in a good way).

  • Samana Bay

    Samana Bay

    February 4th, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    It’s always a pleasure reading your articles. Well said and well covered. As a parent of a son like Phillip, I prayed to have a sibling for my son like you. My son will remain an only child, however I rejoice in knowing you and Phillip. Your expressions of feelings, holidays, and spending time together has been the best gift to me. It is the gentle gust of wind in my sail. It is the gentle rain falling on my roses. It is the calm of job well done. They always in the “east” – “Great things come from the West”, this is one of those cases.

  • Chris Hurley

    Chris Hurley

    February 5th, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    What a wonderfully well-written piece and you’ve imparted such wisdom. Thank you! Stuck in traffic myself heading home this evening I catalogued some of the things I am grateful for too and found my heart beating more slowly, my breathing becoming more relaxed. Ironically, I was thankful to be stuck in traffic, much like you were, because I was pointed due east towards the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills where I live, viewing the snow-covered mountains and lost in my thoughts, and how great is that?!

  • Observer

    Observer

    February 13th, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Dear Ms. Rivkin,

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder to appreciate what we have. I enjoyed the article. I am curious about where you get your perspectives. What is your background, if you don’t mind my asking? You have such wonderful insights. Thank you!

  • Lena Rivkin

    Lena Rivkin

    February 13th, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to not only read but to comment so kindly on my article. I truly appreciate how positive and affirmative this experience has proven to be.

    Since someone asked, my background has given me an interesting perspective. I am a painter, art educator and graphologist. I truly am lucky to have my twin passions of art and graphology inform how I live every day. And as an art educator, nothing beats seeing the bud of creativity bloom in another person.

    My work in graphology has enabled me to see the world and meet fascinating people. I truly enjoy helping others learn more about themselves and other people. I feel especially grateful that what I do can inspire others to explore their hidden talents.

    Thank you again for such heartwarming responses!

  • Renee Ciocca

    Renee Ciocca

    February 15th, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    I am grateful for this story about gratitude It reminded me of all the things I am grateful for in my own life

  • Observer

    Observer

    February 15th, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    Thanks for replying, Ms. Rivkin. Graphology is so interesting! If you don’t mind my asking (it’s so fascinating!) do you ever do handwriting analysis for individuals, or do you work for a major company? I’d be interesting in learning how to go about getting handwriting analyzed by an expert. Do you have suggestions? Thanks.

  • Lena Rivkin

    Lena Rivkin

    February 20th, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Hi Observer, thanks for inquiring about how graphology works! I do analysis work for both individuals and for large companies. I’ve helped Fortune 500 companies as well as small businesses in pre-screening potential employees.

    I also consult on handwriting analyses and forensics for private investigators, which is fascinating work for me. I do compatibility analyses for couples and potential team players in a company. Yet what I consider vitally helpful (and truly love doing) is personal analysis for individuals seeking to learn more about themselves.

    I also lecture internationally about graphology and have many different themes in my presentations. Examples of my different presentations include how to hire the right people for the specific aptitudes necessary for a company, another is about the handwriting of fine artists and in another I discuss what handwriting reveals about famous professional athletes. In another I examine the writings of high profile criminals. I have other presentations, but I don’t want to use up more space on this web page!

    abouthandwriting.com is my website if you would like to know more!

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