The Most Unusual Way to Experience Gratitude

 Photo by Hal Gatewood

Photo by Hal Gatewood

When you think of gratitude, Thanksgiving might come to mind. I know it does for me. Being thankful is popular during the holiday season, but what about your day-to-day?

I’ve come across an unusual way to experience gratitude. It was a complete surprise when serenity rushed over me. It involved fruit, but before I go into what triggered it, let me go back to Thanksgiving...

During the holidays, being thankful is a fad. The commercials and marketing messages are geared towards giving, happiness, and family. Everyone is smiling. They look so damn happy…

I tend to get serious during the holidays. Shouldn’t it be easy to be light-hearted, appreciating time with loved ones like they do in the commercials?

There’s more to it than that...

There’s an internal dynamic that’s going behind the scenes not captured in those commercials. I come from a great family, don’t get me wrong, but no one’s situation is that one-dimensional. There are shades of crap lodged between the shiny bits.

Everyone knows that commercials are not real life but that doesn't change the fact that they still influence our perception of life. They show us how we are supposed to behave with archetypes for what “family” and “happiness” look like.

Here’s what happens to me…

People I care about are mirrors that reflect back my image. When I look at them, I see an incomplete version of myself, with so much left to accomplish. They remind me of everything that I want to do, and can do.

When you have people you care about in your life, you want to make them proud of you.

Chances are, if you’ve experienced a similar thing, it means that your awareness is heightened. You have a clear perception of your potential and you don’t want to let the people you care about down.

Feeling gratitude was alway a chore because my mind got in the way—so much to do so little time, I’m not there yet, when will I get there?—are some of the string of thoughts circulating in my head.

When everyone gets together, instead of feeling gratitude for being surrounded by such loving people, their presence reminds me of the things I want to do to make them proud. It’s an anxious feeling that can get in the way.

Keep in mind, this is all happening in my mind. There’s no outward sign of this playing out. I’m all smiles and having a good time.

For me, it always felt like work to feel gratitude in the moments that I wanted it most. That brings me to an interesting discovery which answered a question that’s been in the back of my mind—how can I be like those people on TV and feel gratitude without force feeding it?

The answer came about when I had to change my routine when my wife and I separated.

We’ve been living apart for the better part of a year. We have two daughters and a baby boy. The girls stay with me most of the week. If you have kids you know that there is tons to do to get them ready for school—give them a bath, wash their clothes, and pack their lunches.

Since living on my own, I’ve had to take some new responsibilities that my wife would normally do. Packing their lunches is one of them. Now, it has become a nightly ritual that I’ve come to enjoy.

My girls love fresh fruit, especially strawberries. I like fruit too, but I don’t go out of my way to eat it, let alone cutting it up for snacks. I’m notorious for buying fresh fruit with the intention of eating it, but it usually ends up rotting in the fridge. That was the old me.

Now, every night I cut up strawberries, apples, watermelon, etc.. to pack for my girls. It was on one of these occasions, rinsing the berries then cutting them into fourths, when a flood of thankfulness rushed over me. You can understand why I’d be surprised. It was like taking a pill and experiencing the effects of gratitude without even trying.

I was in awe at how wonderful it was that I was holding this berry in my hand. I noticed intricate patterns and the colors as if for the first time. How can the earth create this beautiful looking fruit that tastes so delicious?

I’ve never taken a moment to appreciate the complexity of fruit before. This stuff grows on the earth and comes out like this? How amazing.

I felt thankful that it was available to me to begin with, and that my daughters would enjoy it for lunch. This was the profound gratitude that I wanted during the holidays—one of unsolicited joy.

It’s strange how a mundane moment had a profound affect on me.

Here’s the best way that I can distill it for you:

Thinking is not reality

We only appreciate things that happen in reality, not that happen in our heads.

It seems obvious, but if you’re anything like me, I can get lost in my own thoughts — like during the holidays. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s a barrier to enjoying life.

You can experience gratitude by completing an action (anything that is outside of your head).

In my case, cutting up the strawberries triggered a flux of calm. It was a concrete action based in reality. Not a mental exercise. Although it prompted thoughts, it was an action.

I’ve found that it works best if the action is tied to nature. Nature humble us... This is why going for a hike in the mountains calms our soul. All you need to do is get outside of your head and complete an action that is tied to nature.

Next time you’re at home, take some time to cut up some strawberries.