The Shamah: How I Learned What Gratitude Was, and Found God in the Process.


I've always struggled with gratitude. Don't get me wrong, I was always grateful when people did nice things for me, or gave me presents on my birthday, or helped me out when I needed a favour. I always said "thank you", and I was always grateful.

But when you're trying to fix yourself, or make yourself better, or start being a more positive person with a more positive life, the first thing that lots of people tell you to do is be grateful. Grateful for everything that you have. No matter how dark things get, you should always be grateful for what you've got.

Ok, I get it. Despite life being a bit shit, I've still got a roof over my head. Despite being broke I've still got friends. Or food to eat. Or clothes to wear.

But that never made me feel better. It's like saying "there's always someone worse off than you". That doesn't make you feel better, it makes you feel worse. It makes you feel worse because now not only do you feel miserable because your life sucks, but you feel guilty because there are other people who are having a much worse time and you have no cause to feel miserable relatively speaking. And also, the very fact that other people are having a more terrible time than you shows that things can get even worse than they are now.

Don't tell me that. I don't need to know it!

But this whole gratitude thing - how do you make yourself feel grateful? What does that even mean. How do you bring gratitude into your life? 

And then I heard an interview with Stephen Tobolowsky. He's the actor who played Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. It's his photograph I've used for this post (please don't sue me Columbia Pictures). He's been in lots of films, TV shows, and theatre productions and he's not just a comic actor, but a really clever and interesting guy too. In this interview he talks about travelling to Canada to make a film, but before he went he visited his synagogue and asked his Rabbi how he could take his judaism with him while he travelled. Now, I'm not at all religious, but this story resonated with me, and it helped me to really solidify the meaning of gratitude in my head. And it also helped me to understand what god is (and I don't mean god in the religious sense). Stay with me. All will become clear.

His Rabbi told him to say the 'Shamah' twice a day. The Jehovah Shamah is a prayer in Judaism that roughly translates from Hebrew as "God is there" (email me if I've got this wrong). After doing that for a week, his Rabbi instructed him to start saying the Shamah every time he received an unexpected blessing. He didn't make it to the second week before he was saying the Shamah all the time. Tobolowsky explained in the interview:

"When the plane didn't crash in Canada, I said the Shamah. When I got through the immigration line quickly, I said the Shamah. I got to the hotel room and I had a TV with a working remote - SHAMAH! The curling championships were on the television, so no Shamah there! I went to eat dinner in an Italian restaurant and the owner recognised me from Mississippi Burning and gave me a free bottle of wine - SHAMAH! I had a snowflake in my cup of coffee in the morning - SHAMAH! Morning to night, I realised I was the most blessed person on earth. "

By saying the Shamah, Stephen Tobolowsky was able to recognise all the wonderful things in life. So I decided to start saying it too, to appreciate just how positive my life actually was. I said Shamah when I had my first cup of coffee during the day. I said Shamah when I stepped out the front door to find myself faced with a beautiful, crisp, sunny winter's day. I said Shamah when my car started first time. I said Shamah when I had enough loyalty points to get a free coffee from Costa. I said Shamah when I got to leave work on time. I said Shama when I didn't burn the dinner. And I said Shamah when my head hit the pillow and I started to nod off.

By saying the Shamah I was able to recognise the magic that is everywhere, and even the joy to be experienced in the small, seemingly mundane things. And I realised that the feeling of joy from the small things, the seemingly insignificant and unimportant things, as well as the big obvious things, is what gratitude is. From the sense of wonder that comes from taking in a beautiful landscape, to the satisfaction to be found in a clean pair of new socks in your drawer in the morning, that is what gratitude feels like and, you know what else? That's what god is.

I don't mean god as in the Christian god. Or the Jewish god. Or the Catholic or Islamic gods. I don't mean god in the sense of a man in the clouds, or a two thousand year old instruction manual on how to do what you're told and not to be a sinner. I mean the god that exists in your sense of wonder and the joy that you feel inside when the sun warms your face, or the smell of a cake baking in the oven, or when someone you know waves at your from the other side of the street, or when you find your keys without having to hunt throughout the entire house. Or the god that exists in a beam of sunlight coming through a gap in the curtains. Or the god that exists in the satisfaction of having done something you really didn't want to do yesterday so that you don't have to do it today. Shamah!

Try saying Shamah today. Whenever anything goes your way, say Shamah. Whenever you get to work without falling over say Shamah. When your colleague smiles at you say Shamah. When you notice that your favourite TV show is on Netflix, say Shamah. When you get through the day without feeling sad, say Shamah.

And at the end of the day think about how many times you've said Shamah, and think how blessed you are, and how grateful you are. Maybe life isn't that bad after all.