The five kinds of gratitude

November 29, 2014 Originally published on SFGate

Gratitude is all the rage. It’s the new meditation. The new kombucha. Books, studies, experts say cultivating it as a sort of daily offering has all sorts of health benefits, can make you happier, taller, smarter, makes dolphins leap and flowers explode. Is it true? Probably. Sure. With, perhaps, one caveat: Which kind of gratitude are you offering? Does it matter? Let us ponder the five kinds*, and find out:

One: For something
This is the easiest. The most common, the one with which we are most familiar. If you live in America, if you are reading these words, odds are ridiculously good you can close your eyes right now and rapid-fire me a list of all the things you have to be grateful for, and if you’re honest and at all awake, you won’t stop talking for ten minutes straight.

You will say things like, well, I’m certainly thankful for my friends and my family, and my health, my home, my good knees, my job, my car, my heartbeat, the sunlight in my eyes.

You will say, I’m grateful for this gorgeous city, cute baristas, for my iPhone, for fresh sheets, for my dog my cat my iguana my kids; I am thankful for amazing food and great wine and yoga, dance and music and happy ears to hear it with, and the moon, and all my teeth, and bourbon, and travel, and chocolate, my happy marriage, my happy divorce, my new guy, my new girl, low gas prices and also sex and orgasms and salty cheese and artisan coffee and beach walks and books and my wild heart and love itself and did I already say dogs?

See how easy? We are, after all, a nation, a people of endless bounty, to the point of surfeit, gluttony, even embarrassment. But overall, this is an excellent daily practice, even just a minute or two every morning, offering thanks, to ignite that gratitude vibe and make it stick. This alone can transform your whole world.

Two: For not something
The more cynical view, jaded. Many trick themselves into thinking this is a positive way of seeing the world, but it’s actually a little bit toxic.

Nevertheless, this, too, is a very popular list. This is where you say things like: I am grateful I do not live in Afghanistan, or Syria, or the Congo; I am thankful I’m not an oppressed Muslim female, or a Tea Party Republican, or a one-eyed alcoholic redneck wife-abusing meth lab floor scrubber.

You say: Thank God I am not sick, or Ebola-stricken, or missing any limbs. I was not, gratefully, in that shooting, that plane crash, that accident, that ice storm, that pond flesh-eating bacteria. And so on.

Do you see the problem? By defining the positive in terms of the negative, you just end up invoking more negative.

Wise ones say to be very careful with this kind of offering, as the universe, or consciousness energy, whatever you want to call it, does not give a damn for your grammar. It merely understands the vibration, the direction of your attention. Sickness, accident, suffering, pain, you say? This is your focus? Got it. Here you go.

Easy to get a little cheesy with the thanksitude. But you can handle it.

Three: Excessive (AKA It’s all good)
A curious variation of number one, often leaping to near-absurd levels, adding in all manner of tragedy and ignominy and forcing them into the same category as the “good” stuff, to the point where you can no longer tell them apart.

Difficult, painful, sad experiences – which of course offer all sorts of potent wisdom – are forcibly turned positive, perhaps before you’ve fully experienced them as they are. You are grateful terrible X happened because it taught you Y. You offer “thanks” that s/he/it died, because now you know the meaning of love. I would never have learned to play the piano if my legs had not eaten off by angry parakeets. And so on.

Nothing wrong with finding the blessing in the difficult and the painful; in fact, it’s often essential to recovery and moving forward. But we are again reminded to be sure to properly honor the “negative” for its true teaching, and not transmuting it too quickly. In other words, by turning everything into love and light, are you properly respecting the dark?

Four: Reluctant (AKA: I don’t really feel it but know I’m supposed to so whatever)
A mutation of number two. You’re convinced life is miserable and pointless. People suck. Life’s a bitch. But you know you should be grateful, and deep down, you know you enjoy tremendous amounts of good fortune, comfort, health, decent food, nice things galore, probably far more than you want to admit.

So you grumble out some thanks, even though you hate this goddamn holiday and your family is a bunch of assholes and by the way meat is murder (militant vegan, naturally), Whole Foods is an evil scam and the original pilgrims probably massacred all those natives anyway so who cares and oh yeah, thanks.

Bonus: You’re all sorts of fun to be around.

Five: For no thing
Non-denominational. Decentralized. Objective-free. Gratitude as an overall tone, a mode of being, the pool in which you like to swim. Sounds nice, no?

How do you access this mode? Try this: Close your eyes and list a few wonderful, thanks-ready items. Fully awaken the gratitude vibe, and feel it fully. Then remove the objects of your gratitude from your attention, leaving just the energy, the pulse. I.e.; take away the things you’re grateful for, and float in what’s left.

Is that an emotion? Not really. A thought? An idea? Nope. Some sort of blessing? Sure. A living, breathing prayer of no particular religion, one you sort of soak in and offer out, all the time, no matter what comes at you, be it good or ill, joyful or painful, wondrous or downright horrible to ponder? Now you’re talking. Shall we try it?

*(non-scientific. Purely subjective. I made them up. Shhh)

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Mark Morford

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