Finding Gratitude

I used to think gratitude journals were bullshit. Gratitude journals are a practice, recommended by Oprah among others, for women to find ways to appreciate things in their lives. As far as I understand it, the basic idea is that life is hard and it’s easy to overlook all the wonderful things we have going for us and get lost in the stress and jealousy of modern life. Blah, blah, blah. I am sure that Oprah (and others who recommend gratitude journals) would have no problem with men keeping them as well, but let’s be real. This is a practice primarily followed by women.

Yet women in the United States are seriously overworked and underpaid. Women still get paid 80 cents for every dollar men earn. American women spend, on average, two hours a day on household chores, compared to 82 minutes for men. Women don’t need to be grateful for this situation. We need rebellion, not gratitude. Now, revolution journals, there’s an idea I could get behind.

[Requisite caveats – I’ve linked to popular source material, available for free. The scholarly literature is more nuanced, but doesn’t really come to a different conclusion. In my own household, things are pretty balanced. But, anyone who thinks women are getting a fair shake is closing their eyes to reality.]

Despite my skepticism, last spring, when things got really dark in my life, I decided to start a gratitude project. I started by posting a picture of Rose. I knew last March when I had to stop running entirely that things were going to get even darker than they already were. I could not promise to find gratitude in a situation that made me depressed and furious. But I thought I could make a promise to myself to look, in case gratitude showed up on its own. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing for a long time. I just started posting on Instagram with the hashtag #lookingforgratitude.

My Gratitude Project began to take on some rules. The first was that I couldn’t simply post about running all the time. That would have been hard to do anyway because I wasn’t feeling terribly grateful in that area of life. But I could be grateful about flowers in the yard or birds at the pond. I was often genuinely grateful for something Rose did and she became a frequent muse.

As I figured out how to use Instagram, another rule was to try to use a new hashtag a few times a week. Initially I didn’t really understand how the hashtags work – I may still not totally get this. But they more or less help people in the internet-world find other people who might be interested in the same thing. Post #runner and other runners will discover you, like your post, and maybe follow you. Post #fencing and you’ll discover the existence of groups like #instafencing. Whisky, ponds, birds, food, cities, orthotics. Instagram has people excited about all of these things who will look at your images if you direct them there. If you want to see Instagram go truly bananas, post a picture of your cat. Those two rules – not just running and #trynewhashtags – led me to discover and be discovered by Instagrammers (is that what they’re called?) with a huge range of passions.

Another side effect of Project Gratitude has been an increasing interest in images on my part. I am definitely one to snap a ton of pictures of stuff without really thinking about “composing a shot”. I started seeing the world differently. I began contemplating how to capture an event visually and I started following some photographers.

The most important result of Project Gratitude is that it did exactly what it was supposed to do. Even on really dark days, I went into the world seeking something to be grateful for, and it turns out, I was grateful for a lot.

I could still work out, even with the boot:

We live next to a lovely and fascinating pond:

Of course, this guy:

Family vacations:

Good things to eat and drink:




And finally, returning to running:

I have a lot to be grateful for and this crazy Gratitude Project helped me realize that. It was important to narrow my commitment to looking rather than finding. A promise to find gratitude every day would have been more than I could manage. But looking, just looking, that seemed feasible even when life was pretty sucky. The very act of looking cracked my heart open enough to let some darkness out and some light in. Damn gratitude journals might work after all.

Now that I am well on the way to recovery, I could post about something I am grateful for related to running every day and I have posted a lot of that. I think it’s ok to celebrate the gifts running brings me and I suspect it will be a long time before I take those things for granted. It turns out, though, that I like the balance it brings to find some other things to be grateful for as well. Remembering the many good things in my life helps me be less panicky if something goes wrong.

I also thought about stopping the Gratitude Project entirely and I have not been posting every single day. My foot is basically better now so maybe it’s served its purpose. But Oprah appears to have been right again because living with a more grateful heart, as incredibly cheesy as that sounds, just turns out to be a healthier and happier way to live. It’s not that I’ve given up interest in the Rebellion Project and maybe I should start #lookingforfeministrevolution. But I don’t think these things are incompatible anymore. Being grateful doesn’t mean being complacent or accepting your lot in life. Maybe somehow appreciating what you have can give you enough strength and courage to push the world in the right direction for everyone.

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2 Responses to Finding Gratitude

  1. Kevin says:

    Training with the boot… I’m glad those days are over, and I celebrate with you!

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