All the management consultants and trainers are talking about gratitude these days. It is good to be grateful they tell us. Companies want you to be grateful because, when you are, you don’t notice how terrible your work environment is!
Appreciation and Gratitude has been one of the cornerstone exercises of my course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, ever since I began teaching it three decades ago.
But there are important differences in how you do it. And the subtle differences can have a major impact on the effect this exercise has on you.
Many coaches ask you to picture your life and see how much you have that you take for granted. Food to eat, a bed to sleep in, a roof over your head and so on. Think of how much better off you are than most of the world’s population. And this will lead to a sense of gratitude.
One of my students, a perceptive and gentle soul, flat out rejected this approach. “Professor Rao, I just will not do this,” she said. “This is simply using other people’s poverty to make oneself feel good. It is another form of exploitation.”
And she is correct.
When you feel grateful and good because your lot is better than that of so many others, you are using their adversity as a boost to your wellbeing. Perhaps doing so does not make them worse off, but it does plant in your head that, somehow, their lot is worse than yours. Then you become blind to the possibility that perhaps this is not true. That perhaps they have a richness in their life that you do not.
If you accept this reasoning, you then move to the next level where you are grateful for something but do not compare yourself to anyone else. You are grateful for good health and sound mind and gainful employment. But you don’t think of others and whether you are ‘ahead’ of them or not.
There is also a problem here. Whatever you are grateful ‘for’ can be taken away from you. It can disappear in the blink of an eye. Grateful for good health? You may be hit by a truck and become a quadriplegic. Grateful for financial wellbeing? Many of Bernie Madoff’s clients can tell you how ephemeral this is.
So, what is the way out?
Simple. Just be grateful. Don’t be grateful ‘for’ anything. Whatever is in time and space will one day disappear including your frail cage of flesh and blood and bones. Eschew anything that moths can eat, and rust can corrode and thieves can steal.
A good way to do this is to contemplate a scene of spectacular beauty. A picture or memory will also work just fine with practice. Immerse yourself in the scene. Note the granular details. Be fully present.
And you find that gratitude emerges shyly and stays with you. Greet it warmly and bask in its presence.