The changing seasons are filled with symbolism, meaning, and traditions. It is a time that many people inside of western secular society are preparing for a variety of celebrations, gatherings, and feastings. Many within our intersecting religious communities of Paganism and Polytheism are transitioning away from ceremonies focused on death, harvest, and the new year.
The wheel, as it turns from fall to winter, can also harness reflection on those who have passed through the veil, and various opportunities of working through the shadow self. To put it lightly, this time of year is complex for a multitude of reasons.
One aspect of this time of year — one that is also a staple of the changing fall season — is the concept and acknowledgement of gratitude. Whether these ideas show up in our personal lives or whether we are influenced within society by the Hallmark messaging of the Thanksgiving season, gratitude is a thing in November.
We see many people participating in various related activities, such as the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on social media, and there is also a lot of “gratefulness talk” throughout families, workplaces, and even within spiritual communities.
The unwinding rabbit hole that is the definition of what gratitude is and what it means to be grateful differs depending on the medium being discussed. Disciplines like psychology use definitions of gratitude that vary from those definitions found religious frameworks such as Christianity. We have all heard of catch phrases like having an “attitude of gratitude” or the New Age idealism of the laws of attracting more things to be grateful for.
Despite differences, there are some intertwining concepts in the practices of embracing gratefulness in connection with spirituality.
There has been an increase in studies around the impact of gratitude on physical, emotional, and mental well being. Psychologists and others within the social sciences have shown a marked interest on how this very concept can create significant shifts in how people experience their lives on a emotional and physiological level. We often talk about the connection between how our “thoughts become things,” as a very cognitive behavioral therapy concept, and how our beliefs by acknowledging the ways that thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences and behavior are interconnected.
Studies of the influence of practicing gratitude have shown improvements in areas of the immune system, blood pressure, increased joy, more sleep, and decrease in feelings of isolation. Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychologist and researcher on gratitude, explores all of these correlations and the integration of positive psychology modalities in the idea of wellness.
Here are several interesting definitions of what gratitude is from different understandings:
Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Gratitude provides us with a more intimate connection to ourselves and the world around us. In the feeling of gratitude, the spiritual is experienced. – Deepak Chopra
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy. – from Psychology Today
Indeed, this cuts to very heart of my definition of gratitude, which has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.
The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. – Robert Emmons
Much like the role spirituality plays for individuals, gratitude also has the effect of holding a space for hope and understanding within our lives as we are enmeshed daily with both good and bad experiences. Gratitude can be an antecedent for hope and a method of cognitive restructuring of the many ways we relate to our experiences.
There continues to be a focus in research on the correlation between how these tools -spirituality, beliefs, and gratitude – are utilized and how our ability to connect to our world with purpose and direction supports self efficacy. Gratitude has the ability to be a bridge our pasts, present, and future, acting as a mindfulness activity that brings us perspective. It is also important to note that gratitude can have an element of challenge for many people, and has been used in some settings as a demand, tool of manipulation, or as a way to measure one’s humility.
While potentially harmful uses of gratitude within interpersonal relationships and within society imply that having gratitude is a measurement of integrity, it is important to note that this is not the truth for many people. Celebrations of our lives and the many aspects of gratefulness can connect people to a broader understanding of themselves. But, at the same time, but there are also very individual and layered interpretations of what it means in one’s life.
What types of things are our Pagan and polytheistic community members grateful for this season? How does gratitude resonate for them? Here are some of the various quotes that came from others about what they are grateful for today.
Grateful for the harvest and knowing how to preserve and share it. – Mari Powers
Grateful for all the support and love I receive from friends and family, including the fur-children. And for dark chocolate with salted caramel. And for Earl Grey tea. – Kimberly Kirner
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow…- Jonathan Blanton
I’m grateful to be able to work for justice while rooted in a spiritual community. It makes all the difference. – Cat Chapin-Bishop
Gratitude for me is a means to apply balance on an emotional scale. When I’m depressed, overwhelmed by the world news, or just having a pity party then practicing gratitude can shift my perspective. Maintaining that emotional balance enables me to continue to “fight the good fight.” Gratitude is also a gentle way to explore privilege. We all have some places where we have privilege and many of us have places where we don’t. Gratitude for what we have opens us to sharing that privilege with others. Gratitude practice provides a platform, we still have to do the work. – LisaSpiral Besnett
I‘m grateful for my life’s hardships because understanding and learning from experience brings an inner peace only found through suffering. – Tamara Szewczyk
I think of gratitude as a lens to help us refocus how to perceive the world. If life circumstances feel they couldn’t be more bleak, just reminding myself that there are good things in my life and that I can name at least three blessings on any given day…helps me get out of bed in the morning. – Ravensong
I am grateful for my hard past, without which, I would not be able to appreciate and love my beautiful present. It has also taught my to be hopeful for my future, which I know will be stepped in love and abundance.– Lotus Raven Song-Ames
Gratitude is the simplest prayer. – Miskwaa Waagoshnini
As a person with terminal illness, I’ve been asked about gratitude by folks convinced it is connected to freedom from suffering. I get it. I’ve had gratitude focus times in my life, but gratitude feels like a way of comforting and maintaining complacency. I’m not grateful for the annihilation of our planet, for the oppression of humans in so many ways that it’s nearly impossible to breathe in what liberation should be for all of us. I’m not grateful that (overwhelmingly white/privileged) folks focus on gratitude soothes some out of feeling the urgency to act. It’s been urgent for hundreds of years. I am a spiritually grounded and positive person. I’m not flailing without a foundation of gratitude. What makes my life meaningful is not gratitude. It is connection. Beauty and joy despite the rest of it. Sorry, as a person who feels poisoned by the poor choices of humans I’m a party-pooper about gratitude.– Colleen Cook
I am grateful for friends who are still friends and send hugs even if they don’t know what’s wrong. That’s perfect love and perfect trust. – Ashleen O’Gaea
Almost all of my gratitude “quotes” have tunes.
“I thank the earth for feeding my body.
I thank the sun for warming my bones.
I thank the trees for the air I breathe and
I thank the water for nourishing my soul.” (by Ana K.W. Moffett) – Vicki Solomon
Like with many complex topics, exploring various aspects of gratitude can be illuminating and insightful even though they may not touch the surface of the depth of the subject. Exploring concepts, meanings, and connections to gratitude within various contexts falls into the category of being a big subject in a small space. The variety of ways by which individuals connect to concepts of gratitude, and celebration, and through which they connect to experiences will be as diverse as our communities.
There are no rights and wrongs in our various feelings of gratitude, only correlations, themes, and the significance of meaning.
Science continues to explore the vastness of positive correlations between active practices of gratitude and physical, emotional, mental well-being. And we know that our beliefs and spirituality float in and out of each of those areas of a person’s lives experience.
What does gratitude mean to you? How does it show up in your life or your spiritual practice? How does concepts of feeling grateful resonate with the way you mediate the world?
How about that for some new Thanksgiving dinner table conversations?
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its