On ‘On Gratitude’

Today John Green wrote a post on Tumblr about how nerdfighteria has provided the kinds of support and interaction that he, and other nerdfighters, need to get past the challenges they face. As he put it, seeing the proof that people were “trying to focus outward, trying to imagine others complexly, doing the hard daily work of paying sustained attention to the big and small stories around them” helped him complete The Fault in our Stars and also helps him to be grateful, every day, for the people who have chosen to put themselves into the world in such a way.

I’ve been thinking about gratitude a lot*.

Psychologically and socially, things haven’t been good for me lately. The past month has been tough, and in some cases I’ve had to wilfully ignore the long-term future in order to simply get from one day to the next. Even the short-term has been a challenge, but for me, trying to see that I can be grateful for things every day has helped. If there’s something enjoyable even on the lowest days, then that’s worth holding onto.

So far, I’ve been focused on the broader area of being thankful. You can be thankful for things that occur naturally, like the massive storm that helped me break out of one particular day’s cycle of self-doubt. And you can be thankful for things you’ve achieved for yourself, like being constantly thankful that I have managed, more or less, to keep my fridge stocked with vegetables so I don’t just wallow in a pit of depression, anxiety, and Cheerios.

But I think gratitude requires, as its subject, something that someone else has actively chosen to do. I’m grateful that, when I have reached out to people in the past couple of weeks, they’ve told me stories and read/listened to my explanations of my problems. I’m grateful that, although my relationship is severely broken right now, my partner has been willing to talk me through the problems (our mutual problems as well as my own personal ones). I’m grateful for all the empathy and care that people have offered. And I’m also grateful for all the people who have put some part of themselves into a piece of art or writing or music and have shared that so that I could find it and realise that there are bigger things in this world than myself.

We are all just tiny pinpoints in this massive complex world. This might sound nihilistic, but it’s only by connecting, by sharing our experiences, that we can avoid being totally meaningless. It’s not nihilism that I’m reaching for here, though. It’s humanism. We are not alone. We are not all disengaged, unique little bubbles and touching other people won’t break us. My problems, my issues, aren’t things that need to stay locked up in me. Nothing is impermeable. We have neutrinos passing through us every moment. Ideas? Sympathy? Love? All emotional neutrinos that work their way through our cracks and through our shields without us even knowing.

I suppose if I believed in a higher power, I’d be grateful for that as well. As it is, I am thankful for it, and grateful for the interactions that prove that it’s true.

* … my other thought on this day is how much I envy John Green’s ability to communicate succinctly. I would recommend clicking through to his post, which, give or take an award-winning novel and international trip or two, expresses exactly what I want to say.

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