Mornings bring the blues and Veterans Day is no exception. I sit here writing about gratitude and feeling sad at the same time. How is this possible?
Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” (Helen Keller)
Strange thing, gratitude, when we feel it at the grace of less fortunate.
When I see my grandchildren born to a daughter conceived after I came home from Vietnam, I am grateful beyond measure for my survival.
Then I remember more than 58,000 names engraved in black granite and over 150,000 wounded comrades. I think of the hurting souls in my combat PTSD group, my friend’s hot flashes from hormone treatment for Agent Orange induced cancer, my brother-in-law and the husband of a friend both also lost to Agent Orange. I remember my Khmer friends and wonder if they survived “The Killing Fields”, and I think of a former student killed in Iraq.
My gratitude slips away like a poorly tied knot…from pulling it too tight, I suppose, from trying to own this gratitude thing.
There are those who belittle gratitude: “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” (Joseph Stalin)
Well, I like dogs. I trust them more than I trust people, and I would rather emulate most any dog than a lot of people—people like Edward Gibbon who said, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” He also said, “The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature.” Yup, I like dogs better.
Would you believe that scientists actually research gratitude? “Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude.” (Chip Conley)
Practice? So, gratitude is not a thing loved by all, especially arrogant despots. Gratitude is not a thing that can be owned—or a thing at all—but a process I can practice.
Yes, I will have this thing called happiness, and if gratitude is the way, I choose to practice gratitude.
Oh. How do I do that? How does one practice gratitude so that one might become happy?
I am a mess. When I go inside to look at myself, I see messy tracks for which I am not grateful. Still, I must look inside, honestly, to track my feelings. Such a dilemma.
One key is service to others. Yesterday I began writing this blog on Veterans Day, a day when I had no obligations before 6 pm. Today, on the other hand, I must go to work. Service. Today I have the opportunity to be useful, to be relevant.
Not only do I have the opportunity to develop programs to help teachers teach our young people in Yuma, but today I get to serve others in very specific and personal ways. A young Marine veteran is coming to get advice on her academic future, on her major, on her career. I don’t give the advice, but I serve as the connection for her to get to the advisor. That allows me to think about her needs instead of the mess that is me.
Later, today, I get to help a student teacher struggling with academic language in his second tongue so that he may finish his major writing assignment standing between him and his certification. I have the privilege of helping someone, and that is something that not every old veteran has.
I am grateful, again. For this guy, the process of gratitude is finding ways to be helpful to others. Practicing gratitude is searching for ways to serve, tracking opportunities rather than my own mess. May you find your own ways of getting outside yourself so that you may unleash the power of gratitude to lead you to your happiness.