Contextual Gratitude

Recently I fell quite ill and couldn’t understand how since I take care of my health and have lived a relatively isolated life lately. It turned out I had a tick bite that carried a bacterial infection which gave me flu-like symptoms. I haven’t been that sick in many, many years, so when I felt better, I was very grateful. It reminded me how grateful I was for my general good health. This is the kind of gratitude most people feel: contextual gratitude. It is when they have overcome something, avoided tragedy or any other situation that reminds them how good their lives actually are. Unfortunately, this feeling of gratitude is often short-lived, and we soon find ourselves focussed on what is missing or going wrong in our lives.

Another situation that makes us appreciate what we have is when we see others experience loss or hardship. My neighbour recently mentioned that their friend’s teenage son had been killed in an accident. Naturally, this is the kind of situation that makes us grateful that our own children are safe and healthy. The same can happen when we see someone lose their job and struggle to find work, so you are grateful for your job. Or maybe you know someone going through a divorce, so you appreciate your relationship more. So often, we compare our lives to others which can make us feel grateful when we are doing better or unhappy when our lives are worse off.  

So much of what triggers our gratitude is based on the context of any given situation. If you only recognise things you are grateful for when you see the contrast between your life and someone worse off than you, then you are likely overlooking so many things you could appreciate daily. I find many things each day to be grateful for, not because my life is good relative to other people, but because I have learned to appreciate simple everyday events in my life. My morning walks with my foster dogs are filled with gratitude, and so are the many brief interactions that I have with people I meet on any given day. I do my best not to take people and things for granted.  

Gratitude is one of the most significant contributors to happiness. If you reserve it for moments when a particular context reminds you of how fortunate you are, then you are undermining your potential for happiness. Gratitude is a matter of being present, being selective with your thoughts and developing a habit of gratitude. I have gone for walks when the sun is shining, and I am surrounded by beauty only to notice someone passing me with a scowl on their face. Even if that person is dealing with challenges in their life, such people can use moments of gratitude to change their point of focus and feel better. If you can look for things to appreciate in your environment and the people you meet, you will feel more gratitude. However, if you need things in the world to change before you can feel grateful, then your gratitude is contextual, and your happiness will always be tied to external conditions that are usually out of your control. 


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