As children, we are taught or told to be grateful, to be thankful, and to appreciate all that we have. As adults, we know the importance of gratitude, but we ponder, what does it mean—not just to say we’re grateful, but to actually BE grateful—to live a life of gratitude?
When I think about gratitude I think about living in the moment, being present, pausing to appreciate what is good. I suppose in my search for clues and inspiration, I often find myself reading obituaries and other writings on life as death draws near. In these readings, people frequently write of feeling grateful, enormous gratitude for the life they had, the gift of that life. Upon finding out he has terminal cancer, Oliver Sacks wrote in the NY Times:
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
For me, he captures the essence of gratitude so well. Perhaps the culmination of a life well lived is the sum of many grateful moments; savoring those moments, but also of giving back, of giving thanks to those we love, to that which has inspired us: this beautiful planet, the beings we share this planet with, these moments that add up to a grateful life.
As Annie Dillard put so simply, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”