Gratitude is an Action

With the growing popularity of gratitude practices and gratitude journals, people are stepping outside of their hectic mindsets and daily challenges to recognize just how fortunate they are. It’s part of mindset change, which is an integral part of developing a minimalist lifestyle with ease. However, these measures are just a first step.

Gratitude should not be a stand alone emotion or intellectualized feeling that’s briefly acknowledged and put aside. Instead, it’s a doorway to form a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness, a way of slowing down, and a moment of mindfulness. It’s also useful when brought into an internal conversation about guilt.

When we feel guilty, it’s typically prompted by a belief that we should do something, or act a certain way. In relation to minimalism, guilt is a reason people keep stuff they don’t want or need, and why their to do lists and calendar are equally overrun by undesired commitments. When we keep something out of guilt, it may be because it was given as a gift and we would feel guilty to say no thank you. Feeling guilty and taking action because of a should is not an act of gratitude. When we truly feel grateful for our relationships, the money we make (or are given), gifts, and all of our opportunities, there is no room for guilt.

“Jewish guilt” wasn’t just a punchline to a joke when I was a kid; it was deeply felt. And as I grew up, I realized that it was just guilt: guilt for having more than others and guilt for not having the things no one would ever want. Looking deeper, I saw that guilt wasn’t helping anyone, certainly not the people who had it worse than me. Who was I hurting? Only myself. I realized that I’d done nothing wrong and so there was nothing to feel guilty about. What I really had was gratitude and awareness. With this, I could be a better citizen, family member, friend, and coworker, and repurpose what I used to feel guilty to have as a pathway to add more goodness into the world.

Honesty is also a cornerstone of my values. This includes being true to myself if I want to say no to something (eg. a gift, time with someone who wasn’t important to me, letting go of a hand me down). Being honest is nothing to feel guilty about either. Cultural forces and social mores push people in that direction; the strategy of not making people feel bad by lying to them. I consciously choose honesty and being true to myself instead.

I feel gratitude every day for all I have but more than that, I turned gratitude into a positive action. Instead of sitting around feeling guilty, I decided to take what I feel so lucky to have and try to do good in the world. I treat my possessions, relationships, and opportunities with the respect that gratitude brings. Guilt bogs us down and often leads to dishonesty. Gratitude lifts us and allows us to lift others.

Gratitude is an action.

How can you can move beyond feeling grateful in a moment and take an action? For one, you can re-frame the idea of guilt into gratitude (e.g. I’m so lucky I have a friend who cares enough about me to give me this gift. They got something out of the experience of giving, so now I can let this item go). Or re-frame the guilt of buying something you don’t need, package still unopened, as a reminder to feel grateful that you had the funds to buy such a thing in the first place and that this “mistake purchase” was a great lesson to learn. Then think about how you treat your home and your stuff. Think about your purchasing practices. If you treat your stuff poorly, how can you say that you’re grateful for all that you have? We can intellectualize or feel a certain way, but then we need to follow this up with action. Don’t just say you are grateful, act like you are grateful.

Gratitude is an action.

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