The Emotions Series - Gratitude

This series is based on the ontological principle that emotions have three roles in every human life:  To move us, to inform us and to take care of us.  For more background see the white paper on emotions here.

The emotion I find myself in today, at this moment, is gratitude.  That hasn't been true the whole day but it is where I've come to.  How do I know it is gratitude and not some related emotion like thankfulness or peace?  I am experiencing a sense of being relaxed, warmth, well being, calmness, deep breaths and a quiet mind.  The feelings I have, the sensations in my body, are similar to when thankfulness or peace are present but the story is different.  My thoughts all revolve around how everything I have, every experience, breath, relationship, meal, even concerns, was given to me.  I did nothing to earn them in the sense that I created them originally but rather I am the recipient of them as gifts.  And none of them was ever promised to me.  They simply happened.  Connecting with that realization brings a sense of wonder.

Although I grew up around the emotion of gratitude in my parents and extended family I managed to develop a healthy sense of entitlement.  That is the emotions that says, "I deserve whatever I believe I deserve just because I believe I deserve it".  It is the emotion connected with the story that I should have more than I do.  Sometimes the story runs to "the world owes me" or "it shouldn't be this way".  

As it turns out these two emotions are related.  They both have to do with an assessment of how I have been/am being treated by life, the universe, God or gods.  In one case there is the acknowledgment or belief that just being here is miraculous and in the other case that something has been missed or a mistake has been made about how my life has turned out.  

And in coaching ourselves or others this connection gives us a key to helping the coachee shift if they want to.  Sometimes people living in entitlement come to the realization that no one promised them the things they think they should have and their expectations are all self-created stories or are adopted from the world around them.  But even with the desire to change their belief or mood in life they find it difficult.  In the case of gratitude and entitlement one key is the story or language running their thinking.  By recognizing this they can declare a new story and every time the old story of entitlement pops up they can say hello and decline to repeat it to themselves instead shifting to the story that it is all a gift.  Over time they will begin to see and appreciate the "good" things and even those things they consider problems or unfairnesses or betrayals in life may begin to be seen as parts of shaping them as who they are.  Then the possibility for gratitude for all of life begins to be possible.  

There are other practices that can help grow gratitude.  A daily gratitude calendar, journaling each day, saying grace before meals, telling those we love that we are grateful they are in our lives.  Culturally gratitude is sometimes seen as one of those "touchy feely" emotions but this interpretation is different.  It says that I understand the cold reality that these things exist in my life not because I earned them or deserve them but simply because somehow from somewhere they were given to me as a gift.  My opportunity then is that when entitlement shows up, as it will, I remind myself to accept and appreciate what I've been given freely.  That is the practice of gratitude which is how we generate it more strongly in ourselves as an emotion.