*Excerpted from Wake Up Grateful © 2020, 2023 by A Network for Grateful Living. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.
“It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast”
Gratitude is great. When we receive something we want, when experiences bring us pleasure, or when life goes our way, it is natural and meaningful to feel gratitude. Gratitude is like a magic potion that we can sprinkle on a wilted plant to bring it back to life. Sprinkled on a relationship, it does the same. Scattered throughout a day, it leaves us and those in our path happier. Scientific studies continue to reveal that gratitude is simply good medicine, for us and for others. When we feel grateful we are happier, healthier, kinder, more generous, more satisfied, and more resilient.
Most of us would like to feel grateful far more often. But how? How can you experience gratitude when life gets challenging? What can help you sustain the experience of being grateful without needing life to be other than it is, or without wanting more from the people and world around you? How can you navigate the stumbling blocks that keep you from being grateful even when you want to be, or know you should be?
Imagine being able to have gratitude that is unconditional and lasting. A gratitude that does not depend on what happens, but comes from the inside out. Not a reaction to something, but a proactive approach to life. A gratitude already with you as you wake to greet your days — before anything has even happened. This is gratefulness. As the connective tissue between our moments and experiences, gratefulness allows us to find gratitude in the “great fullness” of life in all its real-world moments of messiness and magnificence.
Gratitude is great; Gratefulness is greater
To speak about the differences between gratitude and gratefulness might seem like quibbling over semantics, but there are important distinctions. The common understanding of the word gratitude simply does not convey the magnitude of gratefulness and all that it offers us as a way of being in the world. Gratefulness does not reserve itself only for when good things happen or we get what we want. It is more than simply saying thank you when things go well or counting your blessings at the end of the day. Gratefulness revels in the deeper truths of “I woke up again today” or “I can still notice beauty after another hard day.” It enables us to have the tenacity to attend and respond in a more resilient way to our challenges. It is a perspective shift to: No matter what happens, I still know that every moment offers me something for which to feel thankful, and I make myself available to the exploration. Gratefulness opens us to the opportunity to experience gratitude in every moment.
Gratefulness is gratitude for life. It reminds us that, in simply being alive, we are always receiving. While gratitude — as we know it — needs something good to happen, gratefulness only needs us to be awake. We do not need to do anything to feel grateful, or wait for anything more. We merely need to allow ourselves to notice and be wowed by things we so often overlook and tend to take for granted in the lives we already have.
Gratefulness as a way of being
We are all moving through life guided by our attention and our intentions. Gratefulness is a way of being that helps us to focus our attention and navigate our lives with gratitude as our compass. Consider all the forces that have conspired effectively for you to be here right now reading these words. Your presence is the result of millions of things not going wrong, and millions of things working perfectly. With a grateful orientation, we bring awareness to all that is miraculous about life and awaken to the opportunities in every moment.
We all deal with moments and experiences that cause us to feel disconnected and disoriented. Life will knock us off course in any number of ways: unexpected bad news, our own suffering and that of others, abrupt change, loss. Small daily disappointments, heartaches, and tensions can also disorient us. Successfully navigating life in its fullness calls for resilience — orienting yourself in a way that can help you meet and greet whatever unfolds. As a way of being, gratefulness can offer a compass and trail markers to help you find your way back to a state of well-being whenever you lose your way.
Gratefulness becomes your true North.
How could the distinctions between gratitude and gratefulness help you be aware of more opportunities in your life?
With gratefulness as an orientation to life, what makes you feel grateful right now?
A Fish in Water
When you are a fish, it must be hard to describe water. That is how it can feel trying to explain gratefulness sometimes. It’s a bit like trying to find the words to explain grief or joy. It is big and unwieldy. Sometimes my body wants to describe it: the ways that gratefulness animates the cells, activates the heart, settles my monkey mind. I could say how being grateful wakes me up in the morning and puts me to sleep at night. How it can make me more intolerant of injustice and more passionate about love, both always with greater hope. But mostly, it helps me to appreciate the opportunities nestled inside every stressful moment, and to notice trust peeking around the edges of all my fears. Gratefulness brings me perspective and reminds me of the privileges and opportunities of my life. It helps me navigate choppy waters and better enjoy riding the waves. It has become inextricable from who I am. Kind of like a fish and water — it gives me life.