Gratitude is at the heart of some fairly common spiritual practices. Some people keep a gratitude journal. Maybe around a table at Thanksgiving, some gatherings include an opportunity for everyone to name something for which they are grateful.
Some people don’t get a lot out of those kinds of exercises, though. It just skims the surface as a kind of obligation and fails to evoke much emotional depth. “I’m thankful for the food and the company. Now, can we move on to talking about something interesting.”
Personally, I’ve learned to ask a follow-up question of myself when I feel like my gratitude is a bit shallow or lacking. It’s a question we probably used to ask a lot as children: Why?
Asking Why am I grateful for the food and company? might offer us the opportunity to make our gratitude more meaningful. And there’s no right or wrong answer. The answer could be because the food that was prepared is a way people let me know they care about me. Or maybe I’m grateful for this particular food because it brings back happy memories of comfort and connection. Or maybe I really hate spending time all by myself. (Which might prompt another Why?)
When we take a moment to contemplate why we feel gratitude for something, it might turn a shallow obligatory exercise into a deeper spiritual practice. In this way, gratitude has the potential to clarify our deepest values—the things that sustain us and fuel meaningful action in our lives.
Maybe that seems like too much work. Or it feels too vulnerable. In which case, just feeling whatever gratitude we feel might be as deep as we care to go. But if we allow gratitude to be a threshold into spiritual and emotional depth, it might hold some unexpected gifts.