thoughts on dispositional gratitude, from my son and David Brooks

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Did you read David Brooks on "The Structure of Gratitude" last week in the New York Times? His thoughts on being grateful, on "the sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness"? His thoughts on those who seem "thankful practically all of the time"?


These people may have big ambitions, but they have preserved small anticipations. As most people get on in life and earn more status, they often get used to more respect and nicer treatment. But people with dispositional gratitude take nothing for granted. They take a beginner’s thrill at a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day. These people are present-minded and hyperresponsive.

This kind of dispositional gratitude is worth dissecting because it induces a mentality that stands in counterbalance to the mainstream threads of our culture.

Brooks concludes: "People with grateful dispositions see their efforts grandly but not themselves. Life doesn’t surpass their dreams but it nicely surpasses their expectations."

I was struck by this column when I first read it. I thought of the most grateful person I know—my son—who  never fails to see the beauty in a day, the goodness in another, the possibility in an hour. Among the countless things I've learned from him is the power of looking for and seeing the good. It's a better way to greet the day. And it gets you going places.

So that my texts and calls from my son are always cast in light. Beautiful day, he'll say, on heading out. Good day at the office, he'll say at day's end. Just talked to a really cool person in the park. Just ran by the river, and it's gorgeous out there.

Beautiful day. Good day. Great day. Gorgeous. My son's messages are bits of magic—interruptions in any darkness or churning I might be feeling at that instant. Wait, I'll think when the phone pings and it's him. It really is a beautiful day. Or, yeah. Every day can be conceived or reconceived into some kind of happy.

Why not do that reconceiving, my son reminds me. Why not reap the rewards of looking for brightness? I don't always get it right; sometimes I wallow. But then a sunshine text comes in, and I think: Yeah. Right. Why not be grateful?

And so this post script. My son knows precisely what he wants to do with his life (the perfect job taps his great strengths in statistics, new media, pop culture, demographics, and trend spotting) and two months ago, he was hired as a contract employee at the perfect company. A six-month job, but glory, he was going to take it, and every day he's been there—happy to stay late, happy to do more, happy to take on more training, happy to do, happy to be around people he respects and people who clearly respect him. My son wasn't going to worry (like his mother tends to worry) that it was just a six-month contract. He was just going to love the days he had. He was going to remind me, when the topic arose, how lucky he was to be where he was. Right now. The future would come. But someday.

Turns out my son didn't have to worry. Turns out he was right all along. The future would come, and earlier this week he was offered a full-time job at this company that he loves.

I have to think his aura of gratitude worked in his favor. I have to keep learning from him.


kelly said...

Ah, yes. This. It's amazing, this quality, and I'm glad that the young people we know, the best young people we know, have it. But we have it too, don't we? As we extol the many virtues of the English muffin? :)

Beth Kephart said...

We do. We do have it, Kelly Simmons. We have bracelets that turn themselves around. And just fifteen minutes ago I had another English muffin. With butter. And honey. :)

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Okay, ladies, you're making me hungry. I love the raisin tea biscuits actually, with my tea. How beautiful, Beth, and how wonderful for your son. You must be very proud. Many congratulations to you and your son. To always look at the world in sunshine is the best gift we can give to ourselves as well as to the world.

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