Some philosophies are strongly based in gratitude, and it’s hard to argue much of their reasoning. Sometimes it really does seem as though the only way to get more is to be grateful for what we already have. Other times it sounds like these folks are telling us that the secret to having what we want is to want what we have. That’s all well and good if all you long for is contentment, but if you have dreams to fulfill it simply will not be enough.
It’s still something that is good to practice, if gratitude is not something that flows naturally for any of us. Gratitude can give us perspective, and show us that what we consider rock bottom may actually be several times easier than the best that other people ever get to have it. Comparisons are horrible things when we look up, unless we’re looking up to learn. They can be awful when we look down as well, unless the looking is done with compassion. Then we can see that no matter how bad we think we’ve got it, there are likely a lot of people who would be happy to kill you with their bare hands to have your life.
Way to lighten things up, hmmm?
It’s true, though. The first time I ever got a good sense of this was not when my parents made me sit and finish my broccoli for the sake of the kids starving in Africa. It was when I scrimped and saved and got my first apartment all to myself. It was a total dump, but it was all mine. I used to lay on that tiny bed and think about how lucky I was to be poised on the brink of anything. Some days all I had to eat was gratitude, but on those days that was enough. I used that little dump to draw a blueprint for my life to come, and was as grateful for the time I was taking to learn who I was and who I wanted to be then as I am that I did it now.
Some folks would have us believe that imagining something intensely enough is an essential element in having it be a part of our actual lives, and I’m not here to disagree with them. I’ve always thought that daydreams were a little like a dangling carrot situation, and that they appear to help propel us forward. Of course, we want the carrot at some point as reward. If daydreams are nothing but a drifting mirage of impossibility, they are indeed a cruel self-torture device.
I don’t think so, though. Everything can be used as fuel, if you can get your engine burning hot enough. Frustration is not there to grind away at your soul, any more than hopeful images of a better tomorrow are; it’s there to get examined and then tossed into the fire. Anger burns hotter than sadness, so get mad if you have to. I wouldn’t have these daydreams if they weren’t here to show me the way, dammit! Show me the way!
Sometimes those inner outbursts yield stunning results; other times it is the quiet deeper current of gratitude making things shift under the surface in a way that will soon change the face of that surface forever. The worst that dwelling in gratitude can do is get you used to counting your blessings, and somehow that practice leads to finding more to count each day. There’s definitely a difference in the way we approach someone, if we have just spent some time sitting and thinking about them. If that time was angry and stewy kind of time, we talk and act differently than if that time was spent thinking of all the nice things that person has done for us.
Unless they have never done anything nice for us; then to hell with them, there are better people out there.
An attitude of gratitude won’t bring anyone much of anything tangible on its own, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of the recipe. That’s what any accomplishment worth accomplishing generally turns out to be, the product of a carefully crafted recipe. You can’t make most bread without flour, but you also can’t make it if flour is all you’ve got. You need to mix in some other simple ingredients, in the right amounts, and follow the instructions the recipe gives you.
But my dreams aren’t recipes, they’re hazy drifting images! Maybe, but maybe not. I prefer to think of those daydreams as possible future memories, as my own spirit sends back inspiration for the path that made my infinite possible selves the happiest. In the future.
Paving the path is still my job, of course.
I try to send messages back all the time, to lend a little hope to the miserable and unfulfilled guy that I used to be. Mostly I remind him to be grateful, and that I am grateful that he started practicing an attitude of gratitude a long time ago. I don’t know if that’s what is responsible for all the blessings I get to count these days, but it definitely helps me remember to take the time to do the counting.
Looking forward is exciting sometimes, and those are the best times to look forward. When the looking forward leads to frustration, it might just help to have a look back. When I remind myself that four years ago I had been sitting on my first unpublished manuscript for over a decade, it’s easy to be grateful. Even three years ago, I only had one book published. Two years ago I brought it up to two whole books in my library, and a year ago I was happily zeroing in on number four.
Compared to any of that, I’ve come a long way. None of those versions of me could have handled the work load that I carry now, and that makes it easier to be grateful that nothing I wanted came too fast. Part of the magic of gratitude is that it may lurk in the most unlikely of places, and sometimes it takes awhile to see what there is in a situation to be grateful for. That’s when a little trust goes a long way, and a bit of regular practice might see you brimming over with gratitude despite yourself.
Another wonderful thing that a practice of gratitude can do is get us better in touch with our own personal hierarchy of needs. Dwelling in gratitude is a great way to familiarize yourself with how your own natural rewards system actually works. Too many people delight in the misfortune of others, and it’s largely because they haven’t made it a point to learn to delight properly in their own good fortune. This lack of consideration for oneself inevitably leads to a lack of consideration for others, and we end up with a nation of borderline sociopaths voting on which fully committed sociopath we should pick to lead us every four years.
Yeah, this is me keeping it light.
When we know what lights us up inside, we can pursue more things that light us up inside. Each of us has several different versions of who we are that we might share with the world. The version of me that is swimming in thoughts of how lucky I am to be alive and in love and following my dreams is much different than the version of me that spent so much time wishing things could be different but doing nothing to change them. You don’t want to know that guy, and I’m glad to have nearly lost touch with him completely. It took more than gratitude to stop being that guy, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a key factor. I had to work crazy hard to get from one place to the other, and gratitude was not the only fuel I burned along the way.
It was definitely part of the recipe, however; especially if I wanted to be able to be grateful for all the things I wanted once I had them.
Of course, there is no summit that inner climbing can get us to that does not reveal another higher summit in the distance. That’s just another thing to be grateful for, that life gets more complex and difficult as we make that inner climb. That rewards system that is based on constant improvement would be stymied by the simplicity of life if it were designed any other way. Anyone who learns to love those inner and outer rewards also learns to love the hard work that they must do along the way. It is really quite a wonderful thing to exhaust yourself on a regular basis in the pursuit of your dreams; it’s even more wonderful to realize that what exhausted you yesterday seems like a cake walk today.
It’s truly something to be grateful for.
On a quick personal and professional note, my sixth full-length novel releases today. I make the distinction because there are six other books in the works this year, smaller publications that are short story collections.
‘Zombie Zero: The Last Zombie’ is my greatest work to date in many ways. I could not be more proud of the story and its message, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be celebrating this special day. My zombies are smart and fast, and they have something to say about what it’s like to hunger for human flesh and why the hunger has a deeper meaning. I hope you read the first one, and that you pick up a copy of this one and truly enjoy reading it. If you have time, you might even leave a review.
I would definitely be grateful for that.
Next week, one of those shorter books drops. It’s the fourth of six in the ‘Zombie Zero: The Short Stories’ collection. It’s called ‘The Zombie Killers’, and it’s about a specially trained group of very special people that take killing zombies very seriously. They also take their responsibility towards each other very seriously, and I found the close bonds that they shared as touching as I found the savage way they fought chilling.
I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts on that, too.
Either way, I’m glad you dropped by and gave my post a perusal. I hope you understand now why I always end my posts the same way, and that I mean it sincerely every time. By the time you get to the end, you have activated my gratitude release mechanism, and I want to thank you for it. Also, I don’t delight in the misfortune of others; instead I delight in the good fortune of all of us. If we’re going to be in this together, we might as well learn to hope for the best for each other. So…
Thanks for reading!
All the best,