I recently overheard a young woman* talking about her life with another equally young woman. And as the first young woman spoke about how well things had been going, her face glowed, her eyes lit up, she seemed to exude a kind of peaceful energy that I’ve only ever read about.
“I’m so grateful,” she said, her hand pressed into her chest as though swearing to the truth. “I love my life so much, I almost feel guilty talking about it.”**
I was immediately taken aback by this admission. It seems to me that the word gratitude has been increasing in prevalence lately. It gets tossed around, casually and impulsively, like a football on Thanksgiving. There are blogs and websites dedicated to it, books explaining how to practice it, and a plethora of experts and studies detailing the enormous benefits of reaching a consistent state of thankfulness. But like a successful climb up Mount Everest—an inconceivable, almost mythical goal for all but a select few—achieving gratitude seems an elusive feat for most of us, myself included. In fact, I have wondered if it’s even possible to maintain for longer than a day, an hour, a minute.
And then here I was, face-to-face with proof: An amazing young woman who had beat the odds and ascended that mountain. But instead of standing proudly on the summit with her arms raised overhead, celebrating her accomplishment, and shouting her gratitude for her beautiful, blessed life, she whispered about her joy. She felt nearly guilty in mentioning it at all.
Why? I wondered. Why, after learning to embrace the goodness in her life, would she want to keep it to herself? And then it hit me. Although, the overall societal message regarding practicing gratitude is one of encouragement, the reaction to doing so is often the opposite. There is frequently envy, diminishment, judgment. Because if things in our own lives aren’t lighting up our gratitude sensors, then it’s difficult to appreciate someone else’s good fortune.
But we need to hear from these perpetually positive people. For those of us for whom gratitude does not come easily—again, myself included—they are our teachers, our guides, our proof of possibility. So let us celebrate them. As we learn and yearn for the ability to rejoice over the blessings of our own lives, let us also rejoice for theirs. Let us start practicing gratefulness by giving gratitude to the grateful.
*This is a relative term as: 1) I am extremely terrible at distinguishing age and 2) as I close in on forty, I’ve noticed a developing tendency to refer to anyone who appears even remotely younger than me as young woman or young man.
**This isn’t an exact quote. Although the essence of the young woman’s words affected me greatly, the actual words were quickly lost amid my declining short-term recall. Did I mention I’m almost forty?