been thinking about grumpy people a lot. There are a lot of
grumpy people in the world. I think to myself, why are these
people so grumpy? Don’t they realize that just makes everybody
else grumpy? Grumpiness is more contagious than a cold.
I’ve been thinking a lot about people who complain a lot.
Some people are only happy, it seems, when they are noticing
what’s wrong with something. These people drive me so crazy
it makes me complain about them. And about what they are complaining
I’ve been thinking a lot about people who criticize a lot.
I see myself in this group, too, but I think most of my criticism
is unfortunately self-directed: I’m lazy. I’m not nice.
I cry too much.
I think about people who are always outraged about something.
These are the kinds of people who, whether it pertains to
things little or big, political or spiritual, public or private,
find a way to be outraged. And vocal. Just turn on WGY at
any time of the day and you’ll see what I mean.
I’ve been thinking about how grumpy, complaining, critical
and outraged people handle Thanksgiving. I mean, do they come
to the dinner table sullen, disappointed that the cranberry
sauce is canned, vexed that their partner could say something
so stupid and outraged that the turkey wasn’t free range?
Or do they put on a game face and get through the required
gratitude of Thanksgiving Day, pleased that the next day is
Black Friday, which is an ideal kind of day for grumpy, complaining,
critical, outraged people?
At the annual Schenectady multi-faith Thanksgiving service,
I heard a rabbi say that it is part of Jewish tradition to
be aware of one hundred things you are grateful for. Not just
on Thanksgiving, but every day. And she didn’t mean just general
thanksgiving of the “oh, I’m grateful for my family” sort,
but specific thanks, thanks for things of which you were gratefully
aware. She called them the “Oh, wow” moments.
Cool, I thought. Oprah only wanted people to write down three
things each day.
As I was walking back to my car I got inspired. I started
noticing things I was grateful for—the sun on the Japanese
maple tree leaves, my new green gloves, the ringing bells
of Nott Memorial Chapel.
But immediately the flaws in the idea of an “Oh, wow” list
became apparent. I got distracted by the notion of record-keeping.
How in hell are you supposed to keep track? I mean, you can’t
just stop and write each thing down as you notice it. I mean,
what if you’re on the Thruway and this great song comes on
the radio that you haven’t heard in a long time and you’re
grateful about that? What are you supposed to do, dictate
Then I realized that I was guilty of the very thing I can’t
stand in some kinds of Christians: literalism. The point wasn’t
to count to one hundred! The point was to be in the
moment, to be aware, as constantly as you can, of where you
are and what is good about the moment. I can assure you that
I am almost constantly aware of what is wrong with me, the
world, the ones I love, etc. Trying to find good things seems
like more of a challenge.
Still, the idea of 100 “oh, wows” piqued my interest, and
I decided to give it a try. Since I’m a gratitude novice,
I planned to limit myself to 50 “oh, wow” moments and see
how long it would take me to get there.
I started my list at 12:21.
By 12:53 I was out of gratitude. And I’d only made it to 35.
I had started with the trio I noticed yesterday walking back
to my car.
1. The sun in the Japanese maple tree
2. My new green gloves
3. The ringing bells of Nott Memorial Chapel
Other obvious things followed, things like my feather bed
and hot baths and sweet potatoes with butter and salt. It’s
not too hard to become aware and grateful for the stuff that
arouses your senses.
Then things got a little tricky. If I wow-ed about something
I was grateful for in a loved one, a half-dozen of their little
annoyances also came to mind. If I wow-ed about the bread
and wine at communion on Sunday, a handful of frustrations
and dissatisfactions with other areas of my job presented
I think if I had been making a concomitant list of things
that aggravated me, I’d easily have reach a hundred by now.
The tendency to criticize myself, berate myself, find fault
with others, notice what’s wrong, or invent things that are
wrong seems second nature. That’s a sobering recognition,
but I guess it’s also a liberating one. Gratitude isn’t second
nature. It needs cultivation.
And here’s the other thing I realized. I’ve always had a beef
with the idea of Thanksgiving. I always had a kind of self-righteous
attitude—you know, do we really need a day to remind us
to be grateful? But if my experience with my not-yet-50 “oh,
wows” is any indication, I guess we do.
I’m thinking of bringing my unfinished list to the Thanksgiving
dinner table. Maybe, if we all participate, we can make it
to one hundred. I’d be grateful for that.