Questioning Gratitude

This blog series, #30DaysofGratitude, hopes to share bits of gratitude and create an awareness of how gratitude can change our mindset.

Every day this month, I, along with other writers, teachers and friends, will post about all things gratitude. Come along for the ride and let me know what you are most grateful for every day - I know we can inspire one another.

Written By: Tommy Doherty

Why question gratitude, you might wonder.  Perhaps you object: “what is there to question?!”  Gratitude is many things: An overwhelming feeling of belonging and abundance, relief; the expiration of a period of reflection on all of the good that surrounds us.  The weight of a deep breath.  Meaningful relationships.  The general direction of our lives.  Our ability to shape that direction, and to be shaped by it.  Ideas, objects, and perhaps people that we’ve brought into this world, into existence.  A multitude of things that we may have taken for granted had we not taken a moment to reflect and practice gratitude.  Practice and repetition.

So, to repeat the question once more: what am I grateful for?  What do I value?  Repeating the question leads me to a different answer.

As years passed, my identity has subtly transformed, and yet I’ve experienced a continuity of myself.  I wake up every morning and recognize my body, my environment, and even my distinct way of thinking.  With this shifting identity, I’ve witnessed different values enter and exit my life.  I’ve found myself rapt in an interwoven fabric of different roles and behaviors.  Older brother.  Teammate.  Student.  Son.  Friend.  The list goes on indefinitely (until, of course, time’s up). 

Values stitch the fabric together.  How many squares have others stitched onto the fabric?  Thereimages-1 are two sides to every relationship, and it is hard to tell which values are truly mine.  Yet I’ve embodied many of the stitches, wrapped the fabric around my body like a blanket.

Many of the roles and relationships from early in my life laid the foundational values for who I would become.  I was taught and learned how to act in the world; all of the behaviors, tendencies, and quirks that go on to make me who I am today.  I learned my manners.  My parent's values, which they rightly sought to pass down to me, fashioned my life with a sense of direction.  Over time, this direction strengthened itself through the new relationships that entered my life.  It’s hard to tell who really chose the direction.  Was this the right direction for me?  

During those formational years, I learnt the meaning of gratitude (so I had thought) and the benefits of practicing it.  It was only from there that I could gain enough self-awareness to question it—what it means to be grateful—how and why we value things and people.  I’ve found that it is very difficult to answer why we should practice gratitude.  To answer why would be to make a value judgement, and to determine something as being good: gratitude’s endeavor.  Might we be grateful for gratitude?  Gratitude must not end in only an identification of the good things around us; it must transmit an effect onto our lives.

Without questioning gratitude, could it ever become mine?  I have to understand what gratitude is before I can consider what I am grateful for.  And each time I ask myself that question, time after time, my answer changes; I change (yet I stay the same).  This calls for repeated questioning, and to repeatedly ask a question implies the task of staying open to our experience of the world.  To never have it totally figured out.  We must stay open to experience and allow ourselves to be fashioned by life itself.  And we must fashion life; to practice gratitude means to take an active role, asking questions and finding answers.  What am I grateful for?  Questioning affirms that we live in an ever-increasingly complex and beautiful world; we learn more by acting on our openness with a question. 

To reflect on gratitude—the questioning—inspires a sense of wonder before the world.  Gratitude deems itself a good practice.  In that way, I value it.

Tommy Doherty is a recent college grad who is drawn to many aspects of philosophy.  He loves to reflect with the hope of finding unusual connections between things, and he's intrigued by the ways that we communicate with each other.

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