Some things you should know before we get started:
As a young one, snacking with a childhood friend, I decided to speed eat all the Oreos. While I tried to swallow cookies ‘n cream barf and victory dance around the den, she calmly looked up at me asked me what was happening. I won eating, dummy. That. Is. What’s. Up.
Years later I would attempt to cheat at a high-school Career Test. I answered everything as ideally and dishonestly as possible to ensure that the computer would take one glance at that sparkling sheet and say “YES! Future Leader of the Free World, y’all!”. So I fibbed that I loved teamwork and nature and helpless children and (while skewing answers) answered that I have only the purest intentions and completely solid morals. The guidance counselor just kind of shook her head and told me, again, that cheating was pretty pointless on a test meant to offer you simple guidance? Wasn’t it weird that after all those tainted answers about teamwork and intelligence and hobbies the ScanTron felt 98% sure I should go into the birdhouse-making business?
So there is a brief glimpse into a history of competing in the completely uncompetitive.
Last week I found an interesting Gratitude Quiz from the great people at Berkeley’s Greater Good Project. Ready to dominate Thanksgiving, I clicked through the test, taking extra care to cheat-tweak my answers. I would ace Gratitude and be most superior about it.
I am thankful for health and happiness and good people and my child and a house with a roof and safety and comfort and cupcakes. While I feel confident that I am a grateful person, old habits die hard. I had the immediate need for this on-line quiz to tell me how very Mother Teresa I am.
I cheated on a Gratitude Quiz.
And I still only got a low, low B.
Honest first reactions were to yell “Gratitude my ass!” and angry slam my laptop (Full disclosure: I also said “You don’t know me!” in a Jersey accent a la bar brawl). And a light bulb, a subtle realization that if my Type-A/ Sore Loser personality is ready to crotch kick a team of gratitude test writers I A) could probably actually stand to work on gratitude and B) might just be a serial killer, because picture a bunch of abundantly appreciative nerds typing out questions of thankfulness, taking breaks only to share hot cocoa and pet kittens, all the while offering sweet, gracious words of gratitude to their co-workers and computers and walls. What kind of thankless monster am I?
I mentally backspaced through a few lines of pretty astounding expletives, took a breath, and understood- maybe 4 to five times slower than the average person- that such tests are worth honestly taking. I’ll never know what I was supposed to be, and I’m betting Birdhouse Architect ain’t anywhere close. I’ll never get gratitude right, if I don’t know just how wrong I’m doing it to begin with.
Upon further inspection of my flawed giving of the thanks, I came to the conclusion that I’m good at textbook thanks. Gratitude 101, the very basics. I appreciate the good things I have. I say thanks a lot. But, as is the case with most human peers, my gratitude is finicky, contingent on other things, hot and cold and colder and then randomly warm-ish again. According to Berkeley’s Dr. Emmons of the Greater Good Project, here are a few places where my thanks tanks.
Comparative Thanks: Many of us are most thankful when we witness someone else’s shortcomings. For example, I felt so unbelievably happy to have fully functioning limbs when I watched an interview with a group of bombing victims. I could not tell you any instance before or after that moment that I’ve looked at my elbow or knee or big, caveman feet and felt genuinely lucky to have them. I should be really thankful for these parts every time I take a step or move a muscle, but I needed to see someone with less than I have to make me happy to have more.
True gratitude is saying I’m so thankful for these arms and I hope you have arms, too. Wait. Whatever. You know what I mean.
Gratitude Gesture: I went to get my eyebrows waxed the other day at a nail salon. The lady who wielded the hot stick did not care about feelings. She damn near tore my whole face from the bone and looked perturbed to be bothering with me, anyway. While I handed over my cash she looked at me, spoke something to her friend in Mandarin, and they both laughed. So I tipped her and said thank you, thank you, thank you. What? I didn’t mean it. Not to encourage hollering at the nail lady, but in today’s world we so often feign gratitude because it’s customary and expected. Over time, “thank you” becomes as casual “Hey” or “Bye” and then becomes meaningless. I will still say thank you, thank you, thank you to the nail lady (because I’m scared of her, and she’s the only one who can wrestle these Peter Gallagher brows into submission). But I am going to work on saying thank you the same but meaning it more.
Next time I express gratitude I’d like it to be felt with a voice like Oprah saying “I thanked you ON PURPOSE!”.
Thanks & Thangs: For the low, low price of $39.95 plus shipping & handling you can have your very own Box O’ Blessings! False. Though I tried and only got a Duck Dynasty Chia Pet in the mail. We all know that gratitude and true thanks should not be awarded to dinky little objects, but most of us often forget. You can like your fancy car, your designer purse, or (in my case) your fuzzy frog pajama pants, but does something you swapped some monies for really deserve your deepest appreciation? I like to say that I am truly thankful for basic things: a roof over my head, clothes to keep warm, food to eat, but is that the absolute truth? I fail at being grateful for having enough because I am too busy trying to be grateful for all the more. In my heart I know I’d be less grateful if my “safe place to live” was a tent with a poop bucket in the woods. I know I’d be less grateful if the clothes that kept me warm were filthy rags. I’d be thankful-er eating ice cream rather than carrots, and thankful-est still if that ice cream came before cake.
True gratitude is not having cake and not eating it, too and saying thanks for any carrot and/or crumb that manages to come your way.
Gust of Gratitude: The most wide-spread gratitude funk, as far as I can tell, is failure to stay consistently grateful. It’s easy to ride a wave of gratitude when things are going swimmingly, when all the lights are green, and all cards are dealt in your favor. Personally, I need it to be far away from a menstrual cycle on a sunny Saturday at a cupcake shop to be really, truly thankful for my surroundings. I need a thanks-based holiday to trigger gratitude. I easily forget to feel fortunate when things suck. This is the hard work of giving thanks, though, isn’t it? Feeling fortunate when you are without fortune. Celebrating blessings when it seems you’re on an unlucky streak. Best thanks are given when you are dealt the worst card while stuck at a long row of red lights as the whole world wreaks of havoc and still managing to muster up the deep-bellied, sincerest of thank yous.
Right before Thanksgiving, I’m honestly (no cheating, I swear) working on getting my bare-bones, tried-and-true gracious on. Hopefully after Thanksgiving I’ll remember to beam grateful, too.
What type/area of gratitude do you struggle with?