Expansive gratitude3 min read

More and more of us are beginning to appreciate the transformative power of gratitude. Rather than succumb to the mindset of scarcity – that we don’t have enough money, time, sleep, friends, etc., that we aren’t enough, gratitude and an attitude of sufficiency help us find joy in what we already have, to see the glass as half full, to embrace what is.

But I worry that too often we think about gratitude in the wrong way, or at least a limiting way. The form of gratitude I see most often refers specifically to being grateful the circumstances of our own individual lives, often in comparison to others. I am so grateful I have this meal when others are poor. I am so grateful for my health when others are sick. I am so grateful for my friends and family when others are alone.

Don’t get me wrong, this kind of gratitude is incredibly powerful, even essential. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is the very foundation from which any kind of joy or personal transformation can emerge. We don’t change ourselves from feeling that we are not enough. We can only change ourselves through feeling that we are enough and what we have is enough. And it’s helpful to notice what we have and acknowledge that many do not share that privilege.

What worries me about this framing is that it implies that we are grateful in spite of the condition of the world around us. We are grateful for our individual circumstances because the world is such a difficult, bad place.

Is this real gratitude? To me, it feels more like another way to let the attitude of scarcity creep into our minds. We are grateful that we as individuals have enough in a world that is full of scarcity and insufficiency, we tell ourselves.

What if we expanded our practice of gratitude to not only our own individual circumstances, but our society, our world, our planet, even existence itself?

I am grateful that we live in a time when infant mortality is at an all-time low. I am grateful that we live in a time when torture and public maiming are not the norm. I am grateful that we live in a time when men are more free than ever to unburden themselves from toxic notions of masculinity. The list goes on and on.

I am grateful for this wonderful brain and capacity for meaning and beauty humanity has given me.

I am grateful for the Earth itself, the very ground and foundation of all life I have ever known.

I am grateful that things exist at all, for the very chance to experience or witness anything.

This is expansive gratitude. From this place, whole new universes of possibility and growth emerge. Because if gratitude for our own circumstances is the source from which joy and transformation sprout for us as individuals, then perhaps gratitude for the state of our society is the source from which transformation for us as a species emerges.

Expansive gratitude doesn’t mean we can no longer acknowledge the many aspects of our world that can and should change. In fact, it can’t mean this. Just as we as individuals can’t change ourselves without first being honest with ourselves about our shortcomings, we have to be honest about where we continue to fall short as a global society. Expansive gratitude just acknowledges that evolving our species must come from the belief that we have enough, that we are enough, that we are worthy enough, to overcome our shortcomings.

Published by Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA with his partner Sara, child Owen, and cat Winnie.

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