Friday, December 9, 2016

Perspective

It seems, these days, gratitude can be a strange and mythical beast. I don't mean it's gone from this modern world, to be replaced by entitlement and expectation. I do think both of those elements have grown exponentially, but for the most part I believe they're built on a solid foundation of the things in life we should be grateful for.

Now I realize I'm risking coming across in a "you kids get off my lawn!" manner. But the truth is, the longer we live, the more material we have for comparison. The downside is that for most of us, our nostalgia glands get more and more active with the passing of every year, which leads us to potentially romanticize pain, suffering and poverty.

I'm certain that when we focus on our entitlements (as we see them) and our expectations, we automatically take our blessings for granted. And I know for certain I'm guilty of this. Those of us in self-employed creative fields tend to gravitate toward that kind of thinking, because we're so clearly putting parts of ourselves out for public scrutiny, much more than an employee of a multinational company (for example) might do. So we seek an external validation which is most certainly not owed to us by anyone.

Our constant outward focus then leads us to focus almost entirely on what we don't currently have. This is excellent for our ambition, and our quality control, and our productivity. Where it lets us down so many times is that it takes the focus away from the simple aspects of our own blessed existence which afford us the very freedom to put our work out there. Shelter, food, clean water, free time, electricity, interwebz access, a computer (however basic)... these are parts of life so common to so many of us in the First World that we (I) overlook just how goddamn amazing it is that we have them at all. And what all of these have in common with our entitlements and expectations is that nobody owes us any of them.

We sit and yell because our internet pages are slow to load. Or only half as many people bought our book as we'd hoped. Or that someone didn't "get" our story and gave it a 2-star rating when clearly if they'd only taken an extra few minutes to really understand why my character acted that way then they totes would have given it a 4-star. Minimum.

That's not to diminish the relative importance of fast internet, poor sales or unhelpful reviews. It's just to say what a luxury it is to be able to dedicate so much of my harrumphing time to them.

It's interesting to look, even briefly, at what kind of results gratitude can give us. Studies have shown marked increases in personal happiness, social acceptance, health, and even sleeping, all by someone adopting a more grateful attitude. Some folks like to keep a gratitude journal. I've seen a gratitude movement many times on Facebook (people posting one thing every day for which they're grateful). Whatever form it might take, it still pulls the focus on to what a person has, rather than what they have not. It still feeds the insatiable me-beast, but it helps to slot that beast into the vast jigsaw puzzle of life.

So let me take this moment to express my gratitude.

I'm grateful for all those things I mentioned above (shelter, food, etc). I've earned them, but that should never negate one's gratitude. I'm grateful for my beautiful family. I'm one part of what made that family what it is. One of our boys is a special guy who'll almost certainly never be an independent person. We also went within a hair's breadth of losing him when he was almost 2. So I greatly appreciate having that stable and loving unit around me and within me.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to pursue my childhood goal of writing stories and having people read them. Like most writers, for me it's always felt as though there's a well of words constantly bubbling over within me, and pouring them out, organizing them, coaxing them to play nice... it creates equilibrium in my life and my psyche. By extension, I'm grateful to those who read my words. Even more grateful to those who enjoy them, and say so publicly!

I'm grateful to those who've helped me along the way, simply for helping me. Equally, I'm grateful to those I've helped for allowing me to do so.

And I'm grateful to have this platform on which to express my views. Because the world will roll along whether I post here or not, and whether I write or not, and whether I make covers or not. None of us is irreplaceable, so to have the opportunity to connect in various ways, like we do these days, is worthy of celebration.

2 comments:

  1. I'm grateful for all of you at the Grip, who share both the wonderful and the terrible, the humorous and the desperately serious, true stories and marvelous fiction, month after month after month. Ever single one of you is amazing. As a group--well, I don't know any other blog on like ours.

    Thank you all.

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  2. Thanks for the post. I feel like these sorts of things have to come in a balance. It's good to appreciate what's in front of me, but it's also important not to use that effort to delegitimize valid feelings.

    So I see that you're focused on appreciating things you might otherwise take for granted, and that's awesome. At the same time, I have some questions about the assumptions underpinning that exercise. You wrote: "And what all of these have in common with our entitlements and expectations is that nobody owes us any of them." I know this is something that's often pointed out in a self-help context, and I suppose it's true in one sense. But in another sense, I hear a sort of cruelty in it.

    I actually do think we, as a human community, owe each other some of these things. I think we owe each other clean water, etc, and that it's a travesty that there's so much inequality with respect to that, even in countries where many people are well off. I'm gutted seeing pictures from Flint, Michigan of children dealing with lack of access to water. So I know I'm going a bit afield of what you said, but what this sort of stuff brings up for me is, sure, I can be glad that the water coming from my pipes is safe, but I feel wary when that sort of sentiment is underpinned by a sense that I'm lucky it is. It's not just good luck that made my water safe, and what happened in Flint isn't just bad luck. I think we, as a society, need to take more responsibility for each other, and when I unpack the thinking behind some of the pop exhortations to gratitude, I worry that they have some isolationist, ever-person-for-themselves stuff hidden in a pretty looking package.

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