Gratitude: The Heart’s Memory
If I were to try to describe gratitude to you, with as many words as there are available to me, I would still struggle. Gratitude continues to prove itself as the most difficult to articulate of our emotions. It is subtle in its approach. It is fleeting but at the same time everlasting. There is a French proverb that says, ‘Gratitude is the heart’s memory,’ and this is as accurate a description of the feeling as one could ask for. There is a skill, I believe, to being grateful. Finding a sense of gratitude in our lives regularly is arguably virtuous, and virtue doesn’t come easy to anyone.
If I told you there are different forms of gratitude, different categories in which to place gratitude, what would you say? Would you say that gratitude is gratitude regardless of where it comes from? You couldn’t be blamed for drawing that conclusion, but perhaps it isn’t the full picture. Perhaps there is an extension to some forms of gratitude that allow you to live a more full and colourful life, and perhaps you already experience this gratitude naturally, without a conscious thought about it.
The obvious gratitude, the one we all think of when we consider being grateful, is the one whereby we are grateful for the good things we have in our lives. We’re all told from a young age to ‘count our blessings’, and it is, indeed, a vital form of gratitude. It allows us understand our lives to be good, to appreciate what we have rather than crave what we have not. This daily gratitude can be practiced, and used to help us to see fulfilment in the lives we lead, to be content with the goodness found throughout our present, and the blessings that have come to us in the past.
But this is not the most powerful form of gratitude.
There is a another form, and although it feels counter-intuitive and can be challenging, it can free us from our fears, hesitations, and failures. The second form manifests itself as a gratitude of fear. It is the acknowledgement of the things you are afraid of, and understanding these fears to be an important force throughout your life.
For most of my life, I have been petrified of death. The fear consumed me as a child, coming to me in the night via nightmares about the end of the world. As a teenager and then as an adult, the fear of death made itself known to me through panic attacks. But it hasn’t been the fear of death that has made these panic attacks happen. Rather it has been my resistance to the reality of it. It has been my inability to accept this fear as part of my life which has caused me to suffer throughout the years.
Only very recently have I learned to accept this fear of mine, and to be grateful for it. Because, much like Bruce Wayne, I came to the realisation that this fear can be my strength. It can be the making of me, and indeed you.
I know this to be true because in the wake of death-inspired panic attacks I have always – without fail – found a deep sense of gratitude for the life I have. I lead. The mundane becomes surreal. Long walks in the sunshine become Elysium on Earth. I become grateful for the air I breathe, and the clothes I wear, and even the cold chills that come in Winter because they let me know I’m alive. Even negative emotions become something to celebrate because, although I am not feeling good, I am feeling, and to feel is to live, and to live is to defy death.
So with all of this I have learned to be grateful for my fear of death. I have learned to welcome the fear because it is life-affirming. My deepest fear is something I am grateful for now, and it has changed the lens with which I view my life. Rather than looking for more than I have, I know what is already here as more than enough. It is more than enough because I am still here, still breathing, and still alive.
It’s certainly important to find gratitude in your life, but I think it is far more important to find something that will make that gratitude endure. I began by saying that gratitude is hard to articulate, and it is. But it isn’t hard to feel. It isn’t hard to be thankful for the beauty you’re surrounded by when you have a reason to be grateful for it. For me, the easiest way to make this gratitude last is to remind myself every day, that one day down the road, this life will end for all of us. And when I do this, the sun shines a little brighter, food tastes a little better, and good days come around more often.
It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Find a way to be grateful for that which you fear, and your life will immediately and irreversibly become more meaningful. Gratitude is the heart’s memory, and fear makes your heart work harder.
You become a more grateful person the moment you accept your fears.