Practicing Gratitude

If you look up practice in the dictionary, you get lots of definitions.

You will see there that the word derives from the Greek and Latin sense of “practical work.” Gratitude as a practice is indeed practical work. It takes work. It takes practice.

As such, it connotes the many meanings of practice found in the dictionary. Think about gratitude as you read these definitions, because it might change the way you understand gratitude. It did for me, or at least it reminded me of some old lessons.

Gratitude is a proficiency that must be practiced. It is a habit, a custom, a customary performance, meaning that gratitude should be developed in the doing, like running or martial arts or playing violin. Or, it is a custom or habit similar to other cultural customs such as greeting rituals, exchanging presents on holidays, and prayers before meals. I like the idea of practice as a drill, so that you drill gratitude into yourself the way you drill scales on a piano or a soldier is at drill practice; you do a thing until it becomes innate.

On St. Patrick’s day, twenty-five years ago, I officially “got sober.” That meant I started practicing the attitude of gratitude. Because it is a practice, you can make mistakes, forget, drop it all together, and then pick it up again. I’ve forgotten to do my regular gratitudes in my blog, but I can resume my practice at any time.

Here are some of the loosely paraphrased definitions of the noun form:

1. habitual or customary performance; operation: office practice.
2. habit; custom: (the practice of wearing long hair).
3. repeated performance or systematic exercise to gain a skill or proficiency: Practice makes perfect.
4. condition arrived at by experience or exercise: (she was out of practice).
5. the action or process of performing or doing something: to put a scheme into practice; the shameful practices of a blackmailer.
6. the exercise or pursuit of a profession or occupation, especially law or medicine: (She has a law practice).
7. the business of a professional person: (His son will take over his practice).
8. Law. the established method of conducting legal proceedings.
9. Archaic. plotting; intrigue; trickery.
10. Usually, practices. Archaic. intrigues; plots.
 
Here are some of the verb forms, where all the action resides:
 
11. to perform or do habitually or usually: to practice a strict regimen.
12. to follow or observe habitually or customarily: to practice one’s religion.
13. to exercise or pursue as a profession, art, or occupation: to practice law.
14. to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire skill or proficiency: to practice the violin.
15. to train or drill (a person, animal, etc.) in something in order to give proficiency.
16. to do something habitually or as a practice.
17. to pursue a profession, especially law or medicine.
18. to exercise oneself by repeated performance in order to acquire skill: to practice at shooting.
19. Archaic. to plot or conspire.
 
My rule for gratitude in my blog is that it cannot refer to a specific person. This rule exists because I have a vast group of people to thank, and I would probably skip one of them by accident. The rule prevents hurt feelings.  It also forces me to be creative in my lists, because I would spend my entire focus being thankful for people and miss some of the subtleties found in mindfulness and solitude that also deserve thanks.
 
My gratitudes for today are
 
1. The dictionary for teaching me that gratitude is practical work.
2. The smell of coffee in the morning; that is a bodily habit, indeed, and waking up in the morning requires practice, lots and lots of practice.
3. Cat bells on collars. It’s a delightful sound. Plus it lets me keep track of where my cats are, their moods, and whether or not they are being aggressive toward each other. I never used these until I read Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett.  In fact, I am grateful for this excellent book. It taught me how to interpret my cats’ behavior, how to see my house from my cats’ perspective, and how to keep them from killing each other. Excellent book. Excellent sound, these bells. Excellent cats, most of all, chasing each other through the forest of table legs and deep into the cave hidden beneath the table-top mountain ledge.

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