The Head Path
I generally assume myself to be a very lucky person to live the life that I do. I mean, it doesn’t take very long listening to the news to realize that I have things pretty good. Between this and vague echos of my grandfathers voice still bouncing around in my head about “uphill both ways in the snow… barefoot…” and the such, I think I have it pretty good. This logical approach to gratitude relies on my ability to cognitively weigh as objective a perspective as I can have about my own life circumstances against my perception of someone else’s life circumstances. As most of us know from personal experience, it’s not usually a very helpful practice to compare our lives to other people’s, especially when looking “up the ladder” at those who we perceive “have it all together.” This tends to lead to feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, imposter syndrome, and worse. But in the case of cultivating gratitude, it can actually be a powerful perspective shifting and empathy building exercise to step into someone else’s shoes, so to speak, to recognize the blessings we do have in the midst of our own perceived hardship.
Our heads are masters of judgement. They are very good at reducing things into tidy little boxes. In many respects, this is incredibly helpful and gives us concrete data by which to respond to situations in life. If a pan was recently cooking food, the mind is going judge that it’s a good idea to not touch it with our bare hands. If a ball is coming your direction, it’s helpful to be able to judge where it is most likely to land so you don’t end up catching it with your face. This can be an invaluable tool when practicing gratitude. It is the mind that can offer a powerful shift if in the midsts of hardship you intentionally think about and weigh up all the ways a situation could have been worse or the ways it is worse for people in other situations. This can be a quick wake up call and give us suddenly something to be grateful for. In the instance of a fender bender, for example, instead of thinking “I can’t believe this is happening! My day is ruined!” You might think, “Thank god no one got hurt! That could have been such a worse accident and for many people every day it is a worse accident.” This can foster empathy and give you a hold to hang on to, halting the spiral of “woe is me” thinking that tends to not be a very helpful or productive response.