An article crosses my sightline (as it were) proclaiming gratitude is the key to human happiness.
The trouble with this proposition is of course the word “key” since it suggests a host of fantasies about contentment or well being, the most principle being that it has a physical location, something like a bank vault. You can find your own sub-rosa fantasies. Phallic, capitalistic, old or new testament.
This morning as I work on my second cup of coffee I see gratitude is a rum game—part of the self-help pop psychology mantle of Puritan saccharine ash that fell over America long before the United States existed. Gratitude in the American sense has always meant, “we’re grateful to not be savages” and therefore it’s no more complex than the football player thanking God on TV for letting him score the winning touchdown. We’re grateful we’re not losers.
Oprah, Dr. Phil, their televised progeny—all tabloid psychologists say we should not be losers.
Being a loser means letting others dictate the terms of your quest for joy, dignity, autonomy, truth, etc. So in addition to finding the key, you’re supposed to be independent, like an American cowboy once you’ve found it.
As the poet Robert Bly pointed out in his book The Sibling Society, Americans now have the emotional lives of 11 year olds and the media does everything to assure no one ever grows up. Aging in true psychological terms means admitting sadness, even welcoming it. Pablo Neruda put it this way:
your black wing,
I need the sapphire to be
extinguished sometimes and the oblique
mesh of the rain to fall,
the weeping of the earth…
In this way I shall be grateful for sadness.
I will walk in the new snow grieving for refugees across the globe.
I will remember on Thanksgiving my Native American brothers and sisters, my Latino friends, my black pals, my crippled posse, the liberated, sexually free people I love, all of whom struggle daily just to survive in the neo-Puritan coal mine that “is” America.
Grateful for ambiguities, nuance, depth psychology, post-Colonial verities, the thirst for justice.
Grateful to know what side I stand on.
Grateful to have so many many richly diverse and beautiful people in my patchwork tribe of adults.
Grateful to the animals who allow me into their worlds.
But I shall be grateful for the wisdom of sadness.