What Determines 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: Colleen Sall

"Gratitude Is The Sign of Noble Souls" ~ Aesop.

This is profound. But is it real? How grateful are we in our daily lives? Is it easier to be resentful as opposed to grateful? 

Just today, I was at an appointment for my son, and I ended up chatting with another very pleasant mom. The waiting room had "HGTV" on and in the show, people were going on about their homes and decorating them with unusual, seemingly extravagant artwork while in Fiji or somewhere exotic.

sign-2432252_1920"Ugh, I get so irritated listening to way these people talk!" she said, laughing. She went on to say that it was just something about the "way" they talked that annoyed her. Then she admitted, "Well, maybe it's just because they can gush about where they are and what they're doing at some elaborate getaway...while I'm just here!" We both laughed.

It struck a cord, though. I'd also just heard recently that the number one most disliked kind of post on social media is vacation pictures. Why? Same reason – people resent seeing other people on vacation while they have to slog to work.

I get that frustration, but I have to admit, this hasn't occurred to me at all. I love seeing others' trips and travel experiences. They go places I probably won't end up getting to, and this way, I get to see it! I genuinely enjoy seeing my friends and family having a good time somewhere. No one that I know brags about what they're doing to make others jealous or anything.

It's not that I've never looked at another's life and felt, well, irked. But not because I resented them for reveling in something – it's more me feeling annoyed at myself for not having figured out how to make something work as well in my own life, whatever it may be.

I'm not making any judgments about the mom I met in the waiting room – I mean, really, she seemed a truly pleasant, well-put together person who was just making some small talk. 

The conversation just spurred my thinking. There was a decision I made some time ago to not let any negativity eat away at me. To actually stop and smell those roses, watch those sunsets and freeze time in my brain as I watch my kids grow.

Ages ago when I was a teen, and even in my early twenties, I think the insecurity of those years made me feel that I needed to compare myself with others. I did it unconsciously, the way I see my teen daughter doing now.

Feelings of insecurity make you second-guess everything from your wardrobe to the appearance of your body and every other attribute you have. It can be unnerving and consuming, and get in the way of seeking happiness. We all like to THINK we're secure with ourselves. But it's worth admitting – if you ever resent someone else, could it be envy as a result of self-doubt raising its ugly head? What can be done?

When I really thought about it, I realized wholeheartedly that THAT kind of thinking – focusing on negatives, allowing frustration to enter into my life, worrying about the future –  never made me feel better. So what was the point? Preoccupation with useless thoughts is meaningless.

It was around that time I remember listening to someone talk about the "grace" of everyday, ordinary life. That there is grace in doing those boring, everyday activities like driving to work, doing the laundry, and cleaning the house. 

unknownAnd that if I could feel grace in those moments, my heart could be full of gratitude all the time, from the most common moments to those magnificent, extraordinary ones.

To be honest, at the time I really thought that sounded like one of the dumbest things I'd ever heard. And I was always a pretty deep thinker, mind you. Despite my philosophical nature, it didn't seem possible to change focus like that and have it work.

This might sound crazy, but I attended some art shows at and began to learn about artists – the great painters. I had probably heard this before, but in high school and even college, it didn't resonate. I began to understand the rejection of perfectionism displayed in Romanticism. Realism and Impressionism focused on ordinary people doing everyday things. It was a huge departure from previous artists who only painted portraits or other images that were the ideal, not necessarily the real.

Realism and Impressions brought about exquisitely beautiful images. These pictures showed the beauty of everyday life caught in a snapshot of time. I began to see how ordinary life truly WAS beautiful, that it wasn't just a concept. Degas painted a woman washing herself and getting ready for the day in her bedroom. Monet painted fisherman at the sunrise. Caillebotte painted shirtless men sanding a large wooden floor. All painted snapshots of daily life.

A band called "The Call" performed a song called "Let The Day Begin," which is an anthem wishing blessings above to everyone who is starting their day, from teachers in the crowded rooms to doctors in their healing work to drivers at the wheel. Every day people. Everyone counts. The ordinary elevated to the extraordinary.

That is the purpose of art, I think – to have an impact on our thinking. To make us see things in a new way. Instead of waiting for "perfect" circumstances for myself and for my life, I began to see the simple perfection in what was already all around me.

So, I began to make an effort to feel grateful for so many things. The way the light fell on the trees in the morning or late afternoon. For the way crickets sound at night in the summer. For the glowing beauty of a forest in Autumn. For the still, quietness that is a winter's afternoon when you take a walk alone. For the warm, gentle scent of my dog's fur. For the funny story a coworker told.

As you can see, you can go on and on with life's daily graces to be grateful for when you think this way. And wouldn't you know, when I decided to look for grace this, I WAS actually happier!

It's not necessarily easy to do this. Sometimes life really is stressful when real hardships smack you in the face – not just for an afternoon, but those hardships that affect daily living. When you are facing pain, any kind of loss, anxiety, fear, sickness, death – how can you cope? You can only cling to hope, and take that deep breath and find a centering place.

Without the ability to take peace from the present moment, anyone is condemned to feeling stressed and miserable all the time, whether the problem is traffic ticket you just can't afford or the diagnosis of a chronic illness.

I'm reminded of an image from a movie of "Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors." I won't tell you the whole Biblical story if you don't know it, but Joseph is thrown into prison unfairly. He doesn't deserve to be there. In the midst of his dank prison cell, a single grate lets in just a little sunlight. So Joseph grows a tree right beneath the light. He finds hope in darkness and makes it beautiful.

With the ability take joy from each moment – and there are more moments than not where we can find something joyful to concentrate on – we find our center of gravity and as a result, our gratitude.

As an adult, I try hard to be someone that I would like to be around. I try to think of what makes someone "admirable" and strive to achieve that. When I fail, I make amends, move on, and try again.

I think Aesop had it right and gives us all something to shoot for – "Gratitude Is The Sign Of Noble Souls." It is a phrase of humility, grace and elegance. 

Colleen Sall is the writer of the blog Raising Teens Right. She is the mom of a teen girl and boy and is on the adventure of a lifetime "Raising Teens Right" as she charts new territory with two terrific kids. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband of 24 years, her two kids and a lively little dog.  

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