Tag Archives: usa

gratitude now!

Recently, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store when I noticed the cover of the latest Real Simple Magazine.

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What especially caught my eye was the circled blurb on the side of the cover: “feel grateful now,” it lures. “12 ways to live in the moment,” the promise continues.

I burst out laughing. Heads turned. But really, what a truly absurd marketing strategy. Who is hooked by the commercialization of gratitude? Are we Americans really so out of touch with slow practices of gratitude that we think our hollow inconsiderateness can be fixed in a few steps? Are we so consumeristic that we think we can buy our way to inner serenity at the newsstand? Are we really so out of touch with our souls?

The demand to feel grateful immediately is not a way to cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is a slow noticing, it is a practiced living into the moment, is recognition of desire for exactly what is present. GK Chesterton wrote that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. Henry Van Dyke said that gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. There are many ways to describe gratitude and its working within our beings, but none of its descriptions have a sense that it’s something you can demand, instantly. An old Seinfeld episode loops through my head, slightly altered: everyone is screaming “Gratitude now!”

Gratitude can’t fall under the category of instant gratification and can’t be bought because accumulating is fundamentally at odds with gratitude. When you are grateful, you measure your hearts desires with your life and surroundings and find that they match. There is no need to add more when you are grateful for what you have. The wish for more—whether “more” is a shiny magazine,or the promise of gratitude itself—the wish for more is what murders gratitude.

My first step to feeling grateful in this moment: recognizing that my both my bookshelf and my life are whole without a quick-fix magazine.

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Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby (2013)

The opening of a story sets the lens through which the rest of the story will be understood. When we read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens is grooming us to look for parallels to compare and contrast with one another. When Austen announces that  ” It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” the reader is prepared that this is a work about social status–money and marriage.

So when Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby changed the opening lines, changed the wisdom Nick Carraway recounts from his father, they aren’t merely changing a line. They’re changing our lens to a new focus–a softer one.

The movie begins with Nick stating that his father told him to “look for the best in everyone.” As a result, the story becomes a narrative about compassion, empathy, kindness. The audience is asking themselves: What features make Gatsby great, despite his shortcomings? Can we see them despite his criminal behavior and emotional immaturity, as Nick so obviously does? Can we forgive Tom and Daisy for their carelessness and see the best in them?

The novel gives us a much stronger lens, both poignant and relevant, especially in the wake of the Occupy movement:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

And with holding that advice intact, the narrative becomes something entirely beyond empathy. It becomes a criticism of the American Dream, a portrayal of rugged individualism turned sour, a critique of the wealth that enables and encourages carelessness. We see Gatsby as a victim of a system that lied to him about wealth and equality–he could never make the jump from being new money to being old money, can never bridge the gap between West Egg and East Egg. We stop pitying George for his poverty and see it as the direct result of Tom’s manipulation. We see the way that Daisy, an eternal soul, becomes a display of wealth just as much as the cut and quality of a suit.

We see that hope and perseverance just aren’t enough in a system as broken as ours.

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What happens when the narrative lens is “seeing the best in everyone.”

...but they shouldn't, because Gatsby's narrative exposes everything that's broken with the system.

…but they shouldn’t, because Gatsby’s narrative exposes everything that’s broken with the system.

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