Friday, July 23, 2010

On Gratitude Lists

As a young man I knew a young lady who had grown up in a home where both parents, sadly, were terrible alcoholics. Without taking a drop of alcohol she ended up as a sad case herself. Happily, she found tools for “recovery.” What she passed on to me was something that had really helped her down the years: making a “gratitude list.” So I tried it too, and yes, this tool sure works for me.

How? My answer depends on “why do you want to know?” If you are as desperate as my friend was then wanting to know “how it works” before you will try it, is merely a convenient way, as they say in England, to “put it off.” In Rome: to “procrastinate.” In California: to “self-sabotage.” If, on the other hand, making a gratitude list sounds trivial then it sounds like you are “fully recovered.” Congratulations. Now you may make a list.

To me a gratitude list is a way
to beat the blues and get a realistic perspective. When you’re blue then by definition, according to science, your perspective is off. Just like wearing blue colored spectacles. Moods change. Even when your gaze is clear then, “like the rest of us normal neurotics,” a little extra perspective is still nice to have. Just like briefly squinting, or like shading your eyes from diffuse rays to suddenly see different colors on distant forests.

Occasionally I will make a list; never do I tell others to go make one. For example, I know a man who, if he’s home watching a hockey game, and if his team loses—and not when it wins—then he always reaches for the potato chips. At least he doesn’t reflexively reach for the bottle… ’cause the bottle's for during the game! Since he’s a normal guy, of normal functioning, I’ve never gotten around to talking about any gratitude lists. With him I’d rather talk hockey.

For me, no two lists have ever been the same. I usually just sit, pause, and then start cranking out the items for the list.

Today, if I sat still enough to make a list, then I might find myself considering the Deerfoot Trail, the most dangerous thruway in the city, a trail where the most fatalities are along the curving bridge over the Bow River. Due to the river below, the bridge is prone to icing over when the rest of the freeway is clear or snowwhite. Back when it was built there wasn’t enough funding to build long clear approaches to the river. The only thing to be done, as casualties mounted, was to have a sacred ceremony where a medicine man (shaman) blessed the Calf Robe Bridge

Many folks get by, year by year, without ever putting their tires on that trail. Not if they can possibly avoid it. And so I realize, with wonder, that I too used to white knuckle that road. I’m grateful that now it’s easy for me, grateful that I can drive a stick shift, have a new car and I'm grateful that I will keep my car well maintained and oiled. At one time I couldn’t keep my shoes polished, now I can go to a self-serve gas station and still keep all my fluids at the proper levels. I’m glad my new, improved battery is a sealed unit: no need to check battery fluids in all the cells the way I used to.

For me, gratitude is a hygiene factor when blue, a bonus factor when clear, and always part of a gracious way of life. I suppose it took making a few lists (not just once) to kick-start that "gracious engine" to be purring in the background of my life.

I think gratitude softens survivor guilt. I am grateful to have a nice job in a province that recognizes Remembrance Day. (armistice)

Sean Crawford
Alberta 2010

2018 Update: The trail has been extensively redone.
Funny footnote:
I wonder if the city police still tell the humorous story I heard ten years ago... So this constable goes to Germany so he can bring back a police dog. So there he is, in the German police station one day, when a partial road map on the wall starts to look familiar. He realizes: It's the Deerfoot Trail! The caption in German read: How not to build a freeway.

No comments:

Post a Comment