November has earned the title as the “month of gratitude.” What does that really mean? Gratitude and thankfulness are often used synonymously, but these two words have a seemingly subtle but huge difference. We acknowledge our thankfulness for kind people, for nice things, for meaningful experiences in our lives because these things make us feel happy, or loved, or satisfied; we give thanks for the goodness that finds us.
Gratitude goes a step further:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” - Melody Beattie
Thankfulness is the feeling that leads to the action of gratitude.
How do we show manifest gratitude in our photos?
Just picking up our cameras every day helps us reduce stress and encourages us to look for the meaningful in each day. That doesn’t mean that every photo we take will be beautiful, or happy, or well executed. What it does mean is that we took time to look, to think, to focus literally and figuratively. And whatever we turned our camera toward on that particular day was a reflection of what was in our hearts at that moment. And in some way, that moment, that image informs who and where we are right now.
Many of us are looking back through the images we have taken during 2020. We are deciding, perhaps, which photos will be included in our gift-giving or printed and displayed in our homes. This year has challenged us in many ways, often making it difficult to express gratitude for where we are and what we have. As you scroll back through your photos, spend some time intentionally thinking about each of those moments that you chose to document. Why did your take that photo? How did it make you feel then? What part of your story does it tell now? And most importantly, as you do this, allow gratitude to unlock the fullness of life.
Here are some things to think about during this month as you reflect on gratitude and your photos.
What was the most difficult photo, at the time, to take this year? Have your feelings about that moment changed since then?
This photo was taken on March 23. Amidst strictly monitored access, it was the only day that we were given to go to our offices on campus and collect any teaching materials that we'd need "for the next few weeks." I have not been back to school since...and won't be back for the spring semester either, as we are staying virtual at least through May 2021. This photo was difficult to take back in March and as the days of working from home continue to grow, it gets harder and harder to look at.
What one photo from this year are you most thankful to have taken?
2020 has been a year full of challenges of many kinds. As one who is my own worst critic, the message here has served me well on many occasions.
What one photo from this year are you most grateful to have taken?
This is a phone photo and nothing great technically, but it speaks volumes to me on many other levels. This is my ex-husband and our grandson. I am grateful that although our marriage ended, parenting our girls and grand-parenting our grandson together did not. I am also grateful that because of COVID and teaching virtually, we have had the gift of spending two days a week babysitting our little guy. Amidst all of the not so happy times this year, I'm glad to have these glimpses of goodness.
I know. Many of you are thinking, “I just want to take pictures. What is all of this ‘touchy feely’ stuff about?" As photographers, we are artists. And the purpose of art is to initiate thoughtfulness in those that experience a work of art. When all is said and done, it is not the technical facility or the mechanics used by the artist that make art meaningful; it is the process of introspection engaged in by the artist that brings depth and emotion to a work.
A powerful photo will cause the viewer to look more carefully at the world, to think about others with empathy and compassion, to look at their environment and social constructs with an open mind, and to perceive the everyday with a grateful heart. Every photo we take encourages us and those who look at it to see what lives beyond the objective surface.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer