Wondering About Gratitude
Whenever I have a cold, I’m reminded to be grateful for the luxury of breathing through an unobstructed, moisturized nose. Yet, a few weeks later, I revert to taking comfortable breaths for granted, until the next time my nasal freedom disappears.
Just like a cold, the past months have revealed the routine actions I've taken for granted. I practice 5 minutes of daily gratitude when I meditate, but my thoughts following “I’m grateful for” tend to run automatically, like checking items on a list: family, friends, food and shelter, opportunities, education, growth, health, and my dog.
But the purpose of pausing for gratitude is to feel grateful. To be immersed in the emotion. Not to drill an academic exercise or complete a to-do list. I'm grateful for so many parts of my life, yet I'm fairly bad at consistent, true gratitude.
One of the unfortunate side effects of focusing on future goals is a focus on what is out of reach and what I do not yet have. I sometimes tune out the simple privileges that surround me in the moment...until something's absence reminds me of its usual presence. My foot surgery made every future crutch-free step feel like a privilege. My dog's sudden symptoms of old age caused me to celebrate every previously-obnoxious bark. And staying inside for months taught me to be grateful for the variation in my past daily routine.
This weekend, I took a trip to New Hampshire. There’s just something about nature that triggers my sense of gratitude, perspective, and wonder. Without the city bustle or laptop screen demanding my attention, I'm reminded of how small I am and how much of my routine is a choice. My creation. I love what I do day-to-day, so the reminder doesn’t detract from the meaning of my online, urban life. The separation and contrast simply offer perspective.
Once I overcame my fear of the outdoors (sophomore year of high school...not-so-fashionably-late), nature has continuously inspired my gratitude. I can't help but smile at feeling the warmth of the sun (especially after 6 months of Boston's winter), and I can look at clouds or the ocean longer than at a TV screen.
This weekend, taking in lake Winnipesaukee, I thought "Wowwww how coooool" in the goofy way my internal (and sometimes external) voice reacts in wonder. And I immediately felt grateful for the opportunity to be there, the sights, and the good company.
I love the concept of wonder. The childish feeling of seeing and experiencing for the first time. The feeling that typically fades with age. Less new-ness = fewer "wow" moments. There's a reason why fiction books portray immortal characters as cold and bored. I imagine that after hundreds of years, everything ceases to be new or exciting.
Even as a wee 21-year-old, I see the shift happening around me. Fireworks fizzle out to "annoying," dating becomes "time-consuming," and snow no longer carries an appeal beyond a day off. I’ve recently added maintain wonder to my long term life goals. I don’t want to become apathetic, unmoved by the bunny crossing the sidewalk during my morning walk or the power of my stand mixed beating egg whites.
The majority of my personal development efforts involve interacting with others, seeking challenges, and actively documenting progress. For gratitude and wonder, I'll take an unstructured approach to avoid the checklist effect.
I already value wonder and run into the feeling frequently (just watch me taking daily pictures of the local wild turkeys like I've never seen them before). Now I need to focus on using the wonder-moment to break my self-centered perspective and spark gratitude—to flow “This is amazing" into "Thank you for existing.”
Wonder is also fun. You don’t have to plan a grandiose adventure or travel across the world for "wow" moments. So now, during the most monotonous period of my recent life, appears the perfect opportunity to practice wonder and gratitude. Thank you for reading 🙂.