Although I’m not much of a joiner, one contemporary tradition I embrace is National Gratitude Month (November). I personally think gratitude is a tremendous boon to mental health. It has the power to lift an incipient bad mood, it helps lower blood pressure, and it makes us engage more in our work and with our fellows. It doesn’t hurt to tell others that we’re grateful, especially in a world that wallows in bad news.
Recently I was having trouble sleeping. This happens when I feel the pressure of too much work. I start rehearsing what I need to do in the moments between wakefulness and sleep. It’s an irritating cycle because it pulls me back into wakefulness over and over.
My friend suggested to me that I recite an alphabet of things I’m grateful for. At first, that was a daunting challenge—I mean, who really likes Quinoa, but how many other words start with a Q? As I flipped through the alphabet over and over, I realized I was calming down—looking not at my bucket list, but the buckets and buckets of good things that overflow all around me.
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t embrace gratitude even if you don’t believe in a Higher Power. Good things happen to all of us every day. If you aren’t grateful to God, then be grateful to mere chance for putting you here at this time and place.
Gratitude and generosity are closely linked. Noblesse oblige is a term used to say that with wealth and power come responsibilities. It can be traced back to the Iliad. Sarpedon, king of Lycia, delivers a famous speech to his pal Glaucus, telling him that as they have been honored kings, they are obliged to fight to repay that honor.
Sarpedon could not have come to that realization had he not first recognized that he was blessed to have had the life he’d lived.
Sarpedon lived with less material comfort than any modern middle-class American. As a soldier, he lived in a skin tent moved around by donkeys or oxen. He would have been comfortably fed and clothed, but he lived in a world with no iron tools or weapons, no stone palaces, no books or scrolls, no coinage, no industry, no windows, no pharmacopeia, and, ultimately, no battle field medic to save his life.
Which is my way of saying we all have a lot to be grateful for, starting with the fact that we don’t live in the Bronze Age. Start there, and if you can’t think of anything to add, maybe it’s time to reexamine your life.