Part One in a Three Part Series on Gratitude Circles
Given that this week is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and that I recently started offering Gratitude Circles online, it seemed an appropriate time to blog about gratitude and Gratitude Circles. I hope you enjoy this series and consider joining me for a live Gratitude Circle online.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”~William Arthur Ward
Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), spoke often about gratitude. He recommended keeping a gratitude journal each day, focusing on needs met. He often spoke about celebration (a form of gratitude) as a core human need and that, for him, all communication came down to either “please” or “thank you.” Given Marshall’s equation, this means 50% of what we’re speaking each day is gratitude — even though we may not be aware of it! He called gratitude “life juice” or “giraffe fuel,” since, as he also pointed out, nothing is more wonderful than contributing to life and the well being of others. Gratitude is the recognition of that contribution. (And of course we can contribute to our own well being as well, and have gratitude for ourselves!) NVC I believe is one of the original forms of positive psychology. (To read some blog posts I wrote about the positivity of NVC, see See Me Beautiful, Needs, Requests and Getting Positive about Observations). The whole practice of NVC ultimately is about meeting needs and making life more wonderful, which is a place of abundance and gratitude.
Yet even with Marshall’s focus on gratitude, celebration, and needs met, I found that in the practice of NVC we often end up focusing on needs unmet (or as I prefer to say, needs “up” or calling for our attention). Most NVC exercise I’ve seen are focused on needs unmet. When people request empathy, 90% of the time or more in my experience it’s about needs “unmet.” This is understandable. It is painful and uncomfortable when we have needs up, calling (and sometimes even screaming) for our attention. As the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” We are hardwired to see the glass half empty since, to survive as organisms, we need to quickly identify unmet needs and address them and, if possible, meet them. This is true about physical needs (food, water, warmth) and all the needs. This is why it’s so powerful to be heard, and healing and restorative to identify our needs and see them met. We want relief and well being, and peace.
So, given the value of gratitude and how often we can focus on “what’s wrong,” I wanted to find ways to bring our attention back to gratitude and what is making life more wonderful, especially as a group/community practice. I had already experienced the impact of other group/community practices in NVC, such as empathy groups and mourning circles. So how about a community/group practice around gratitude? That was the start of Gratitude Circles!
I first created Gratitude Circles about 15 years ago (around 2006) and have now offered them many times, at IITs, the NY Intensive, the NVC International Women’s Retreat, among other in person events. Each time I have been struck by how powerful they are — in fostering connection, community (even communion), self-connection, clarity, and joy.
The clarity is exciting and affirming for people; it comes from clarifying through gratitude what most matters to them and what they most want to bring into their lives more fully –what in effect, brings them most alive and gives them energy and joy. Joy is a quality in my opinion that we don’t think about much or even hear that often — usually in ads for a product (Enjoy Coke!) or during Christmas time (“Joy to the world!”). I see “joy” as connected to wonder, awe and beauty. In our everyday mundane and busy lives — the routine grind of focusing on work, getting things done, keeping up — it can be easy to overlook joy and just how it much it contributes to our lives and well being. We can also forget how much joy is a primal indicator, like a neon light, telling us what matters to us.
Another core concept in NVC is how celebration and mourning are deeply connected and are in effect two sides of the same coin. When we are mourning, we are, in effect, celebrating what matters to us. We see this in funerals or memorial services for a person who has passed. While about the person and their life, in the end, a memorial service is about what qualities we admired in the person and how they contributed to our lives. What matters most to us, as epitomized by this person that we knew and loved? We are mourning those qualities — be it compassion, care, fun or humor etc — and how we will miss (mourn) experiencing those qualities, at least in the particular expression of the person who has passed. Given this, it’s fitting that rather than “memorial” services that people instead choose to call these sometimes a celebration of a person’s life.
I share all this because another aspect of Gratitude Circles that has been surprising and inspiring for me is how deeply they can take people. In celebrating needs met (gratitude) a lof of energy, happiness and joy is generated. And sometimes, the Circle also leads some into mourning. Noticing a need that matters to them and they’ve met, can remind them of all the times that need has gone neglected, unnamed, unvalued, and unmet. There can be tears of joy and also tears of sadness, wistifullness, and regret. Ultimately, though, even this sadness is productive, restorative, clarifying, encouraging, and uplifting. Mourning helps them integrate what has happened in their lives — where maybe they have missed the mark — and, again, what they wish to focus on and further manifest in their lives.
While a kind of empathy circle, Gratitude Circles are quite different in some ways, with more structure. In my next blog post, I will describe how to set up Gratitude Circles, when practicing in person; in third blog post in this series I will focus on my newest innovation: how to practice Gratitude Circles remotely, online.
Meanwhile, what is one thing that you’re grateful for in your life?
What needs are met for you?