Ruminations on Gratitude

You may have noticed that there was a pretty large gap in my blog posts this past year.

A year ago I got engaged. We decided that we didn’t want to wait too long to get married. We’d been living together for six years at that point and were completely done with our foot dragging.  So, I took four months to plan a wedding, while simultaneously working on my MA thesis, and finishing up my Reiki Mastership.  All three of those things culminated this past Fall.

So, my only explanation for my absence is that I got busy.  After the busy time had passed, I collapsed for a couple of months, and by the time I regained consciousness, I was out of the habit of blogging.

The reason I’m bringing up the wedding, at all, is because part of our wedding experience inspired this post on gratitude.

The very last thing we did for our wedding was an exercise in gratitude—we wrote our thank you cards. We wanted to make sure that every guest got something written to them personally, even if it was something small, expressing our gratitude for their presence on our wedding day.

I insisted on it, and my husband ran with it. At first it looked a lot like a very long chore, but in the end, we’d stumbled onto an exercise that enriched our experience much more than we had expected. We experienced gratitude in a deep, all-encompassing way that we don’t have in our regular daily lives.

Gratitude has gotten enough press, lately, that most of us believe that it is an important ingredient for a satisfied life, or at least, that’s what we’ve heard. We hear it so often now in yoga classes, meditation retreats, and “spiritual” teachings—the word “gratitude” has become almost fetishized.

One 2013 article summarizes, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting positive effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation.”¹

That sounds pretty good, right? But, how do you get there?

To answer this question, I went to Robert A. Emmons, PhD, who is not only one of the authors of the article quoted above, but the person behind a good number of the gratitude studies that have been coming out these days.

Emmons tells us gratitude is a conscious choice and practice. His first suggestion is have a daily gratitude practice, and the easiest way to do that is to keep a gratitude journal.

I read somewhere (perhaps another article based on Emmons’ work) that gratitude journals work better when you choose to write several sentences about a few things, rather than make a long list of one sentence thoughts on gratitude. I’ve searched, but I have not been able to find that particular article or study.

Perhaps the longer ruminations work better because a list makes us start writing down a bunch of things that we think “should” make us feel grateful, rather than focus on the few things that actually make us feel grateful.

Trying to feel grateful for something that doesn’t make us feel grateful is a good way to make ourselves feel guilty about not being good enough. Haven’t we had enough of that, by now?

Even if the list is short, work with what actually makes you feel grateful. Write about it.

I think Dr. Emmons sums it up pretty well as he discusses one of his case studies in a paper of his:

“Her gratitude was not a selective, positive thinking facade, but rather a deep and steadfast trust where goodness ultimately dwells even in the face of uncertainty. This thanksgiving was grounded in the actuality that true gratitude is a force that arises from the realities of the world, which all too often include heartbreak, sometimes overpowering heartbreak.”¹

¹Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855.

I Was Taken by the Latest Scam Targeting Yoga Teachers

I was writing a different entry after my long break from blogging when something else came up, so I’m putting off that blog entry for this one.

An email scammer sent me an email and I fell for it.  I didn’t fall for it for long enough for him[1] to complete the scam, but long enough to be mightily disappointed when I realized that it was a scam.  Here’s a link to a detailed description of this particular scam.

At first, I’d wanted to punish him in some way.  I had heard about vigilantes that spent time dangling the hope of a big pay-off in front of fake Nigerian princes making them jump through hoops for weeks, only to disappoint and frustrate them.

Woman angry annoyed at computer

This image perfectly captures how I felt at the time.

I ran through several counter-scams in my head, many involving long hours of paperwork (for him).  I was still in that mindset when he emailed me again.  Would I agree to do him the teensy favor of sending his other fake identity several thousand dollars by Western Union?[2]

I said I would.  As soon as I hit “send” on that email, I got a strange tingling sensation throughout my entire body.  I felt weak, and I started shaking.  I realized that I had ventured into new territory.

I don’t have a poker face.  I have what Elizabeth Gilbert calls, “a miniature golf face.”  This means that every thought that crosses my mind shows up on my face.  In high school, my friends used to make fun of me because I was so easy to read.  My husband thinks it’s hilarious that he knows what I’m thinking at all times.

Because of this, I don’t even bother trying to bluff—ever.  If I were playing poker, my version of bluffing would be to say, “Excuse me, I have a terrible hand, but I was wondering if you could pretend that I have a really good hand just this one time?”

So, the second I sent off that email my first instinct was, “He’s going to know.  It’s going to be so obvious that I’m lying that he’ll drop me the minute he opens that email.”  Because seriously, who does these kinds of favors without asking any questions?!

It wasn’t long after that email was sent that I decided that I would come clean with him, but I was still pretty angry.  So, I took time mentally crafting my “coming clean” email.

It included a lecture about how we should strive to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes or commodities, and how not all Americans are rich (I assumed he was not in the US).  I even threw in some statistics about the number of Americans living in poverty (over 45 million), and how there are homeless people on our streets and hungry children who don’t have access to a decent education.

I even got all holier than thou about how we (meaning: me and my friends) would never try to rob him.

But, of course, I don’t know that to be true.

I don’t know his circumstances.  I do believe that most people would choose to survive without harming others when given the choice, but what’s a choice?  You can’t have a choice unless you see yourself as having a choice.  Given a bleak enough situation, most people would do just about anything to survive.

So, I started mentally crafting a new email.

I was getting close to sending that new email when he emailed me again.  He wanted to email me his credit card number.  This would be the stolen credit card from which he’d take funds to make it seem like I was paid temporarily.

So, I postponed my farewell email again thinking that if I got that credit card number that I could at least report it as stolen.

Well, I waffled on this.  It probably wouldn’t mean that he’d get caught, and he probably has a dozen stolen credit card numbers, so what would it matter?  It would barely slow him down.  But, I also thought, “It surely matters to the person who owns that credit card.”

By this time, I was completely done with my initial anger and disappointment.  Rather than spending my time thinking about how I could punish him or change him, I started worrying about his well-being.  I started sending him long-distance Reiki.  It started feeling strangely surreal that the two of us were linked in this way, probably across the globe, because we’re both desperate for positive outcomes with our businesses (if you can call what he does a business)—both of us anxious and sad about our relationship.

The next day, I received another email.  He wanted to wait several days before sending me his credit card number.  I decided that I would not let this drag on any longer, and I wrote him this email:

Dear [scam-artist],

This is a very difficult email for me to write.  I have discovered that it is very likely that you are not a legitimate customer and that you are trying to pull a scam.

 At first, I was hurt, disappointed, and angry, but I’ve realized that you probably wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t need the money.  Unfortunately, I have no money to give you, which is the reason I was so eager to get your business in the first place.  I am a Reiki healer, and I sent you some healing energy in hopes that it will help you in some way.

 I won’t pretend to know anything about you, but I want you to know that I am very truly sorry for any of the hardships that you have endured throughout the course of your life.  I have no ill will towards you, and I wish no harm to come to you.

 I hope you understand that I can’t continue to correspond with you.  I hope you find success in a way that is true to whatever place you call home, whether it be an actual place, or a cherished place inside of yourself.

 Best Wishes

In the movie My Fair Lady, one of my favorite exchanges goes like this:

 Higgins: Do you mean to say that you’d sell your daughter for fifty pounds?

 Pickering: Have you no morals, man?

 Doolittle: No, I can’t afford ’em, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me…

 As silly as My Fair Lady can be, I’ve always found this to be a compelling perspective—morals are a luxury that are afforded to non-desperate people.  It’s a lot easier to refrain from stealing bread if you have enough to eat.

Personally, I’ve been struggling in my business because I am terrible at advocating for myself.  I know lots of successful Reiki practitioners and Yoga teachers who have plenty of clients, so my struggle is my own, and I’ve been working on it.

I was desperate for business, and when we’re desperate, we often making poor decisions.  This is the reason I was an easy target.  However, while I am not good at advocating for myself, I am really good at learning from my mistakes.

During the time I believed my scam-artist, I finally felt the empowerment I’d been seeking for a long time.  I finally felt valuable enough to move forward in my business.  In the moment of that feeling, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t need this to believe in myself.”  Shortly after I had that realization, the scam revealed itself to me.

I haven’t heard back from him, which suggests that he cared a whole lot less about our exchange than I did.  I know that he deals in volume (sending out hundreds of emails, hoping something will hit), so I guess the lesson here was entirely my own.

The next time I pause to thank my teachers, he will be on my list.

Have you had a similar experience?  Have you ever learned good lessons the hard way?  Let me know below!

[1] He identified himself as male, so I’ll continue to call him a him, but in actuality, I have no idea whether or not this person was a man or a woman.

[2] WHY Western Union does not ask for ID in this day and age is beyond me.