Plenitude and gratitude

Our five-year-old grandson recently spent a few days with us. One morning, he said to me: “You guys have too much of everything.” I asked him what he meant, and he responded by telling me that we had five toilet plungers and four bottles of shampoo.

While I could justify both such excesses – when you need a toilet plunger, you need it RIGHT NOW, and a quick trip to Canadian Tire to buy a new one is often faster than trying to remember where the one you already have might be, and shampoo is expensive, so it is worth stocking up when it is on sale – his comments struck a chord with me because, of course, he was absolutely right.


Many of us have too much of everything. I have enough food in my house to last several months. I have more food growing in the garden. I have more clothes than I need. I recently packed two right shoes (completely unmatched) for an important speaking event because the floor of my closet is littered with shoes and, in a rush, I did not look at what I had grabbed. I have piles of books that I don’t have time to read. I have a car. I have two bathrooms in my house. I have enough money to pay for my day to day life, to help my kids out from time to time, and to spend part of Canada’s long and cold winter somewhere warm and sunny.

The plenty in my life goes well beyond the material. I have friends who make my life richer in countless ways. I have a wonderful partner; children and grandchildren who bring me joy; lots of stimulating work; a mind and body that (so far, most of the time) don’t let me down.

I’m sure that many of you are in the same position.

But how many of us take the time to engage in active moments of gratitude for our plenitude? I don’t mean the begrudging “eat all your carrots, there are hungry children in India” kind of gratitude that our parents urged on us when we were kids. I mean taking a few moments every day to consider our good fortune.

The importance of gratitude

Last fall, I attended a workshop about managing chronic trauma. There is lots of chronic trauma in the work I do, and I thought it might be useful for me to understand it better. When, after lunch, the facilitator, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, said we were going to talk about gratitude, I groaned inwardly and set my face to simulated interest mode.

While initially, some of Lipsky’s ideas seemed too intentional for me (setting the alarm on my phone to remind me to be grateful – no way!), the more I listened, the more I realized she was right on the mark.

She talked about the need to find ways to feel and express gratitude in our work, where we hear seemingly endless stories of misery and sadness. In her book, Trauma Stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others,she writes that taking the time to feel and express gratitude “roots us in humility and graciousness, which is much better than arrogance and indignation.”

Taking the time

While I never got the hang of setting my alarm to remind me to feel grateful, I do make a sincere effort every day to step outside whatever I am doing, to set aside whatever story of violence or abuse a woman has just told me, to silence my irritation with a co-worker. And in the space that creates, even if just for one or two minutes, I am able to remember what an honour and privilege it is to do the work I do.

And where does this leave me with my riches of toilet plungers and shampoo? Well, we now have one plunger in each bathroom and, at least for now, we remember where the other three are, so I think we have capped our supply at five. The shampoo is a different matter. Just yesterday, I saw it on sale once again, so . . . .

One thought on “Plenitude and gratitude

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich simplicity of this post…along with the subtle reminder to pause, assess, and be grateful for the many great things that make up life.

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