On February 1, 2021, when I pledged to remain in a “State of Gratitude” I did not expect it to be so difficult. I entered this journey intellectually, enjoying all the new reading, and appreciating all the little acts that create happiness and joy in life. Today, eighty-eight (88) postings later, I admit the emotional part of the journey to gratitude is not always easy.
Since I promised to motivate my followers, I observe people on a daily basis to learn what makes people “grateful”. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my informal observations reveal that many people tend to focus on what they do NOT have rather than being grateful for what they DO have. I, too, at times, find myself guilty of this attitude as I will explain below.
As many of you may or may not know, I decided to buy a camper so that I might see the National Parks and visit Waterfalls around the USA. I looked and looked, and planned and finally found a motor home that was my dream! It was brand new. I had to wait an extra five months for it to be delivered during the pandemic, and then when I did receive it, I waited another five months for it to be under repair for warranty services, fixing various unsafe parts and completing manufacturer recalls etc. It turned out to be a lemon and last week I sadly got rid of it. So, for more than one year, I happily had focused on camping adventures, camping furniture, places to go, and my planned dream places. I admit I was extremely involved in the adventure I had dreamed about and, to date, never had experienced. I read all about camping, joined various groups, and was full of anticipation.
But…in reality, before my dream even started, it ended. My dream was over after more than a year of expectations!
This week I find myself grieving for what I do not have, rather than for all that I do have. Intellectually, this is silly, but emotionally I feel the loss of that joy that the camper was supposedly going to create in me.
I ask myself… what should I take away from this experience? Where do I find gratitude in my own story of desire? What is the meaning of this event on my journey to gratitude?
I suppose I am happy that my camper did not kill me while on the road with all the defects it had. I suppose that I am happy that I did have the freedom of choice to decide to get rid of it or to keep it and to keep fixing it. I appreciate everyone’s expression of support when they learn that my dream did not come true. All the little sad and crying icons touch my heart as you post them in texts to me.
It feels truly silly to feel disappointed, so I am thinking about what “Gratitude is Teaching Me”, and thinking that “Gratitude and Desire Need to Be Better Understood”. I want to learn about the psychology of desire.
As is my practice when preparing to write a posting, I research a topic. When I typed “psychology of desire” into google, I was pleased to find a recent book by that title, edited by Wilhelm Hofmann and Loran F. Nordgren and published by The Guilford Press in New York (2015). It seems that they and 50 different contributors have an abundance of information for us to understand our own psychologies and desires.
Finding this book this morning, I already feel closer to a state of gratitude. Reading this book helps me move from a sense of loss regarding the camper to a sense of gratefulness.
So…how do I think that desire relates to gratitude? And, as the title of this posting suggests, how does gratitude serve as my teacher?
Hoffmann and Nordgren (2015) remind us that desires motivate us. Some of our desires are rooted in evolutionary old systems that are linked to our very survival. Food would be one example. But, these authors tell us that our desires must be regulated by societal, educational, legal, and religious systems. If not, think of the chaos in a world if every desire we had were manifested on the spot.
These authors provide a rich discussion of human desire research which is beyond our scope and posting today. But, what they do explain for us is that desires influence our judgements and behaviors.
- Not all desires are equal across people and situations.
- Some people experience too much desire while others feel too little desire.
- Some desires are “physiological need states” while other desires are acquired through “reinforcement learning”.
- Desires are studied in the context of people’s behaviors, goals, ideals, motivations, and strivings.
- Our underlying brain mechanisms cause desire.
- Discussions of desire include the topics of wanting, rewards, pleasure, control, preferences, cravings, attitudes, restraints, and decision-making.
So, returning to our question, how does desire relate to gratitude?
- One might answer that when meeting our various desires, we feel gratitude.
- When we reach our goals or objectives, we feel gratitude.
- When we are motivated or strive to help others, we find gratitude.
- When we participate in a religious service, we feel gratitude.
- When we achieve an educational objective, we feel gratitude.
- When our little puppy learns a new trick, we feel gratitude.
- While caring for our senior citizens within society, we feel gratitude.
- In other words, we might say that many of our deliberate actions daily lead to gratitude and those actions keep us in a state of gratitude.
To state it differently, when we meet our desires, we often feel gratitude ranging from gratitudezero to gratitudelite to gratitudeultra as has been discussed in a previous posting. But, there may be consequences to being in a “state of gratitude”. Consider this alternative viewpoint expressed by Rooney in 2019:
Cyndi Rooney on July 31, 2019 titled, “Gratitude and Desires Is it possible to be Grateful but Still Want More?” Rooney explained that “gratitude can lead to complacency”. That is, if we remain in a state of gratitude we can risk being too satisfied. We can risk settling. She suggests that we can be thankful at the moment but it is ok to set your sights higher, to want more, to” work for more, and to believe you can achieve more.”
It’s important to understand we can be grateful and still have a desire for more. These things are not mutually exclusive. We just have to be okay if we don’t end up with more.
Be grateful for the want to, and the motivation. Be grateful that today is not the end.
Today is just the beginning. Rooney, July 31, 2019
So to wrap up this posting for today, I conclude: gratitude teaches us, sometimes, what is enough.
But, gratitude is not to be used as an excuse to stop believing in creating a better society, or to strive for more education and knowledge, or to continue along a deepened spiritual journey, as well as to meditate, and find joy and purpose, and happiness, and to enrich our lives, or to want more in life.
There is an instagram site that I like called #gratitudemakestheattitude. I think this means gratitude causes us to stay aspirational and inspirational. As Rooney noted, we can be grateful and still have the desire to want more.
Upon reflection, I would suggest that those people who tend to focus on what they do NOT have should also be grateful for what they DO have. But, I would reverse the order and reframe the same statement as:
People should be grateful for what they Do have, and also be grateful that they aspire to want more. Purpose in life is important and necessary.
So, personally what have I learned from my camper? I have learned to be grateful because of that experience. At least I tried something new. Even though it did not work out, I have learned more about gratitude and desire.
It is now your turn: Has achieving or not achieving a particular desire made you feel grateful? If so, how? If not, what was your experience? What did you learn?
Remember, “Be grateful for the want to”, and “Be grateful that today is not the end…” You still have tomorrow… You are not finished finding your joy and wanting more.