Being Grateful as a Catalyst

Offerings from morning prayers remain in the temple at Changu Narayan, Nepal.

Additional disruptions to our lives keep coming at us on a near-daily basis. Through that barrage, it might seem challenging to find opportunities to be grateful. That’s why pausing with intention to seek out and reflect on gratitude creates greater appreciation for things that often go unnoticed. Especially now, noticing what makes us grateful calms nerves and brings joy amid the isolation.

We feel grateful for things we have not earned — for gifts, for blessings, for bonuses. Gratitude stems from appreciation, with that appreciation wrapped around a kernel of perceived unworthiness. When we earn something, its receipt is expected. While we might appreciate a thing we earn, the idea that we deserve the benefit eliminates the feeling of gratitude. Feeling entitled stands in its place.

That distinction between earned and unearned benefits means the joy of feeling grateful may mask unexamined privilege and thus present opportunities to use that privilege in ways that benefit others. Being open to perceiving gratitude as a catalyst of action requires quite a shift in thinking. Rather than dwelling in gratitude to feel self-satisfied or joyful, we need to see gratitude as a trigger. A flag, if you will, to get us to check our position and consider the actions we can take to extend the benefit to others. After all, if I feel grateful for something because it was unearned, why should I be the only one to benefit from it?

Practical Application

Facilitating week-long seminars (such as Critical Pedagogy and Digital Praxis at DHSI or Intro at DPL) exhausts me. My pedagogy requires me to be fully present and emotionally attuned to the participants in those courses. While that’s affective labor I thoroughly enjoy, it takes a toll on my ability to engage outside the classroom. There’s only so much I can take after being “on” for a week of facilitating all-day classes. At those events, when I find other introverts who allow me to openly acknowledge that exhaustion and who commiserate with the strain we’re enduring, I’m grateful for the chance to relax and stop performing for a bit. That relief feels vital as seminar weeks progress.

That sense of relaxation and relief prompts me to question what system grants me the privilege of that comfort. How am I in a position to experience that relief, and what can I do to extend that ability to others? Put another way, how can I make the seminars I facilitate more comfortable to others who are introverted like me?

Outside Opinions

These questions ultimately come from a conversation I had at just such an exhausting event back in the summer of 2017. At that year’s Digital Pedagogy Lab, I shared space one morning with Amy Slay and Kate Bowles. That morning, all three of us felt exhaustion in our bones. We appreciated the opportunity to let our respective guards down, and we had a conversation about a new concept: active gratitude. Come to find out, that phrase may have come about not intentionally but through a mishearing. But the discussion that followed sheds light on the nature of gratitude, the dangers lurking behind it, and the work we are called to do as a result.

Later that year, I interviewed Amy and Kate about their thoughts on active gratitude. Just last week, I produced a HybridPod episode out of those interviews. Go take a listen to what Amy and Kate have to say, and be ready to start doing gratitude differently.