According to the internet, gratitude is:
“Gratitude, thankfulness, or gratefulness is a feeling of appreciation by a recipient of another’s kindness. This kindness can be gifts, help, favors, or another form of generosity to another person. The word comes from the Latin word gratis, which means ‘pleasing’ or ’thankful’.”
It, however, is not something that comes to me easily.
As a child I was naturally inquisitive, insatiably curious. I wanted to know how everything in the universe worked (and as an extension had the unrealistic goal of reading every book ever written before I died). I watched everything my parents did and learned to do whatever it was they could do whether it be mowing the lawn, cooking a meal, sewing a shirt, knitting a scarf, etc., etc., etc. If something could be taken apart I would inevitably take it apart to see how it worked and if something wasn’t working I’d see if I could fix it. If an instrument was laying around I’d pick it up and figure out how to play it. If there was a paint brush and paints at hand, well, you get the picture. For me the world and the things in it were things that could be explained, understood, and when appropriate, mastered.
Alongside this natural inclination I lived in a world I saw as inherently broken. My father, who in most ways was a wonderful dad, was also an asshole with a short temper, so in many respects I saw his behavior as something that could be understood, changed, and even fixed. Kids at school were frequently mean, dishonest, and even violent towards one another, so I thought that too could be fixed. Add war, poverty, homelessness, starvation, global warming, mass propaganda…well, the list of things I think we, as a species, could be doing better, is nearly endless. So my mind, being so autistic in nature, being so prone to needing to understand a thing then make it better or fix it, wants to, well, make things better or fix them. When I can’t—even when I don’t really have the power too—I end up frustrated, anxious, and/or depressed, if not downright angry. Yeah, don’t get me started on the Middle East conflict.
I want to understand. I want to help. I want to improve. I want to fix.
So what does this have to do with gratitude or being grateful?
When I put my mind to it, I am thankful for a great many things in my life. I’m thankful to have grown up in a first world country to two parents who, despite their flaws, did their best raising me. I’m thankful for them keeping a roof over my head and food on the table. I’m thankful for the things they did to educate me and allow me to explore my interests. I’m thankful for regularly seeing extended family growing up. I’m thankful to the people who kept me alive, fed, and housed, during some of the toughest years of my life. And as sit here saying, “I’m thankful,” I realize I could literally do this all day without running out of examples. And yet, do I “feel” gratitude?
When I look at other people, how their minds and hearts work, I’ve always realized I’m different. I don’t (often) feel gratitude. I can conceptualize something I can describe as being grateful, but it’s more of an intellectual exercise, not a feeling. It does not become automatically but has to be summoned as part of an understanding, a picture of how different parts of the machine of life are put together. But in recently finishing Henry Winkler’s autobiography, where he concludes by talking about how gratitude was something he’s only very recently learned to embrace, I’ve come to realize I really should too because, if for no other reason, my recent struggles have had me so focused on my mortality that just getting through the day or doing simple, straight forward things that take the edge off (e.g. smoking and drinking), and I need to do something better for myself, and by extension, for those around me.
I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I do see and feel and experience the world very differently than most people. Can’t force a square peg into a round hole. But at the same time, it’s possible to sand the edges off of a peg, depending on the material, or find a square hole, so maybe I can build some neural networks that are more reflective of what most people consider “feeling” gratitude, or, at the very least, put more of my mental and intellectual focus on what I am thankful for as opposed to the million things that drive me nuts because they aren’t the way they’re “supposed” to be. So I’m sure to explore these ideas more over the final days of November and going through the new year. No idea where the journey will take me but it’s gotta be better than where I’ve been.