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Archive for November, 2011

It’s that time of year, when the wisdom spectrum–from deep spiritual practices to greeting-card platitudes–turns in unison to the subject of gratitude. Google it and within 0.19 seconds you will be served up 56 million entries, including several thousand versions of Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy.

I’m not denying the virtue of gratitude. Au contraire: I practice it, recommend it to depressed friends and relatives, even speak about it from the pulpit of my rather lenient church. Gratitude is such an all-round good thing it ought to be a sacrament.

But what about the dark side, when it’s not about something you do, but something you want done to yourself?

Like when, after working all day long, and dashing out to the store to buy shrimp and dark leafy greens and a $4 pint of ice cream, and spending 45 minutes in front of the stove turning it into something tasty and nutritious, and serving it up to your family on pretty plates—and then seven minutes later its gone and so are they and you’re still in the kitchen thinking, “Wait, where’s the gratitude?”

This is why people slam kitchen cabinets.

At my house, the sharing of tasks is still an issue, but I solved the gratitude problem with a jokey little gambit. At the end of the meal, as people are leaving, I point to my cheek to cue the gratitude. And like clockwork, son, daughter, and husband—they each give me a kiss and say, “Thank you for that delicious meal.” Corny, I know, but it works for me.

Sometimes you just can’t come out and ask for it, though. You’re in a public situation, say, and you’ve done something that in your humble opinion calls for a word of thanks. You certainly would offer one if the roles were reversed.

And standing there, you’re actually writing the words in your mind—finishing the other person’s sentence in such a way that it reflects nicely back on you. Silently willing them to say, “Why thank you, Jane. Thank you for being such a wonderful person! Let me clean your house for year as a gesture of appreciation.”

This I have found less successful than cheek pointing.

In fact, it can be unattractive. Not that we would be like this ourselves, but we all know people whose longing for appreciation is palpable. People who listen to others as if they were playing jump rope, listening just long enough to find the point of entry, where they can jump in and turn the conversation around to themselves. People whose stories invariably set them up as the hero.

This is a tiresome quality. We can recognize a hungry heart in the relentless demand for affirmation, but it’s tiresome nonetheless and manipulative. I’m not proud of this, but I have found myself at times resisting these demands. I get tired of it, and stubborn. And also—full disclosure–I’m resisting in part because I’m thinking, well excuse me, but don’t I deserve a little gratitude as well?

Such is life in the land of ingratitude, where everyone is starving for a word of praise and there’s none going around. Here it doesn’t matter what blessings are in your life, because you’re not capable of receiving them.

If by chance you find yourself there, it’s best to recognize the triggers—for me, there’s heartache and a metallic taste in my mouth—and turn your attention to something more productive.

My daughter and I like to use the word pivot. It’s a running joke derived from a Friends episode when the gang is having some difficulty moving a couch up the stairs and Ross is yelling, “PIVOT.”

Most of us, most of the time, are terrific gratitude practitioners, right? But if in the rare instance we find ourselves in that pinched little place—pissed off that nobody appreciates us, grasping for praise like a heat-seeking missile—we should do what Ross says and pivot toward gratitude.

Then we can see the holiness in things we take for granted—like having a couch, and friends to help move it, or a family with whom to eat dinner.

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