Gratitude- A Dialectical Perspective

“It is not joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

–David Steindl-Rast

In the spirit of Thanksgiving…gratitude.

I often feel gratitude for the simple things in my daily life. A cup of hot coffee in the morning, a sweet encounter with a stranger, arriving home to see Joe after a day at work. Of course, these things are easiest to spot and cash in on when things are going well.

Because of this, I am trying to broaden my understanding of gratitude and accumulating positives. Should we strictly practice gratitude for the stuff we like and approve of? Is it possible to have deep appreciation for the difficulty, the challenges, and the pain that life so often offers?

I recently did a meditation challenge with a group of my closest friends that I’ve had since I was young. The five of us live scattered throughout the country now and don’t often get the opportunity to connect all together. As we moved through the challenge, checking in via group text, one friend started a conversation addressing feelings of guilt related to the past. We found ourselves leaning in and saying all the things that have gone unsaid. As any close, long-term relationships include, there has existed conflict and friction, where each of us has been fallible. Typically these things get tucked away. Too shameful or embarrassing to directly acknowledge. Having the hard conversations does not always feel ideal. It often means radically accepting things that we don’t approve of and maybe wish never happened. And yet, I found that opposite action for guilt and shame created a sense of lightness that couldn’t be produced any other way.

I reflect on this to try and illustrate my attempt to be thankful for all of it- the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, when I take the non-judgmental stance, it’s apparent that the labels good or bad don’t fit. The dialectical perspective challenges me to see difficult situations as seeds for growth, unpleasant emotions as valuable information, and setbacks as antecedents for a deeper understanding. This is not always easy- I’ll choose this journey anyway.

Gratitude- A Dialectical Perspective

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