Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Research has shown that an attitude of gratitude can be positively correlated with the degree of happiness we experience. Paradoxically, in a society that all too frequently propagates vanity, social status, and self-importance, humility—the very thing that allows gratitude to arise naturally—is denigrated, or worse altogether, lost.
In today’s world some may feel that, “being humble” is akin to being pushed around, to overly sacrificing for others, to hiding feelings for the sake of being nice, or to suppressing views to avoid conflict—in other words, being a doormat.
I don’t believe being humble is any of these things. When we can drop into humility, we open our heart to our humanity and in so doing, we allow ourselves a greater connectedness with others. It is this experience of connectedness that actually creates a sense of groundedness and equal footing with others; we are neither above nor below them. We can be more relaxed. We are no longer consumed by who is better or worse, right or wrong, but rather, by our desire to behave and respond from our authentic self. Authentic humility is not worn on the sleeve. It shines through our actions and our thoughts toward others. In actuality, it seems true humility comes from a place of self-worth, allowing us sincerely to appreciate and validate others without feeling diminished by comparison.
In a culture that values self-aggrandizement and entitlement over generosity, when we begin to comprehend our vast web of interconnectedness, we can turn more to the reality both inside and outside ourselves. We realize how truly dependent we are on one another, no matter how much we have or what we can have delivered to our doorstep within an hour. It makes sense to be more cooperative and peaceful with one another. It opens up a space of thankfulness in us, deep gratitude for all that we have.
I’ve just returned from the east coast after being with my father following his open-heart surgery. There were many complications requiring 14 days in the hospital Intensive Care Unit and acute rehabilitation which will continue for several weeks. Thanks to his indomitable will and lots of help from great medical care professionals, he is on the mend. In order for me to be there as his primary support I couldn’t be in Santa Monica to see my clients. I had to depend on many others to take care of my responsibilities in Santa Monica, and especially at LA CAMFT. Unable to use phone or computer while sitting with my father in the ICU, I had time to contemplate so much, and came to feel enormous gratitude for the nurses, doctors and orderlies, for the caregivers who spend every working hour, day in and day out, under fluorescent lights, with constantly beeping machines, and who nonetheless are still able to extend compassion to everyone dealing with a life-threatening illness. I felt the vulnerability of the utter humanness of infirmity and the possibility of death. And I felt humbled not only by my father’s will to survive, but by his gratitude for the life he has lived and for the time he has left. I was thankful that I had the resources and the complete support of others which let me take the time to be there in my dad’s time of need. This experience—as stressful, and challenging, and sad, and scary as it was—opened my heart in a way that I never would have imagined.
I don’t think humility is something one can strive for; that would be an oxymoron. That said, we can continually look for opportunities to be grateful for what we do have, for our connections and the many ways in which life itself is a gift. As the holidays descend upon us, may we all be in touch with a sense of gratitude and humility in whatever ways are real and true for each of us.
“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
— David Steindl-Rast
Shelley Pearce, LMFT is currently serving as President of LA-CAMFT. She has a private counseling office in Santa Monica, and regularly consults by video conference with colleagues and clients. She serves on the board of the Global Bridge Foundation and helped create Humanistic Spirituality, an extensive, free online resource for counselors. She synthesizes a breadth of career diversity, education, experience, and a sincere desire to help in her service and practice with individuals and couples.