A Modern-Day Approach to Gratitude

How to live life with an open, thankful heart even when things don’t necessarily go as planned.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

It’s probably safe to say that many millennials have daydreamed about the cross-country road trip. Somewhere between this coast and that coast and the wide open spaces of America, we find each other and we find ourselves, right? It could be a nod to the Kerouac vibe we’ve laid claim to (and most likely slapped on an Urban Outfitters distressed tee) or it could just be our constant craving for a change of scenery. Maybe a little bit of both mixed with a little bit of something else: nostalgia for a simpler time, the idea of getting away from it all, going to bed in a different city than the one you woke up in, that nagging wanderlust flecked with longings for the dream getaway car.

Sometimes, however, a daydream can set us up for a reality we haven’t prepared for, results we didn’t see coming. Sure, sometimes a long and winding road is driving off into the sunset of the wonderful unknown. But other times, it is a bleary-eyed 36-hour sleepless journey, all the the while hoping and praying your family cat doesn’t pee all over your freshly cleaned car. Maybe that example is getting a little personal, but it’s safe to say that life doesn’t always turn out in the way we expect.

There are two ways to look at this kind of awakening. The first, and the far easier one, is to see this reality as a disappointment, a let down, a case of real life not living up to our expectations. The second, the one you have to dig a little deeper to get to, is that change is never too far away, even if we’re sure, so sure, what’s coming next.

I believe this isn’t pessimism. And while I don’t think we should be looking over our shoulders and spending all our time protecting our lives instead of living them, sometimes it’s important to acknowledge that things can’t always go as planned. And even the most organized person in the world can organize themselves into a cyclical and damaging mess if they don’t, at least once in awhile, stop moving long enough to be where they are, even if it’s somewhere they never imagined ending up.

With this in mind, I think we should be grateful for what actually happens to us, and not just the really good stuff. Because most of the time, I think this attitude of thankfulness is focused on comparison, even if it’s unintentional. We’re grateful, usually, based on what we haven’t had to handle, for the circumstances we haven’t had to face. We see tragic things going on all the time, in our neighborhoods and around the world, and we might feel pain or try to find a way to help, but we also might breathe tiny sighs of relief when it doesn’t happen to us.

My question is, is this gratitude? Are we grateful just because nothing’s really gone that wrong or only when it’s easy to be? Or could we be grateful just to be here, for the small, simple things, for the every day, even when that day is marred by something we didn’t see coming?

I’m not saying when something bad happens that we should automatically hunt down the silver lining. It isn’t always immediately apparent, that’s for sure. And there will even be circumstances that appear to have no upside, at least from our current viewpoint.

Even when life has gotten to feel pretty predictable, even when we’ve got every second planned and anticipate all the alternatives, change can come at you from a direction you never even glanced towards. This isn’t to encourage you to never leave the house or to live in fear of ultimate peril. Rather, it’s to remind all of us (myself included) to live in a constant state of wonderment, to be in awe of life’s complexities, of its defining moments, big and small. Life is not about things going perfectly, but just about things going, and how we can make the most of what we hoped for versus what actually happens—and being really, truly thankful for when those turn out to be the same thing.

holstee_logo_2Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.

Helen Williams
 is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She’s strives, every day, to be less sorry