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“Work for a cause David, not for applause. Remember to live your life to express, not to impress; don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”
I’ve never read Sonny Bloch’s and Grace Lichtenstein’s book Inside Real Estate, so I don’t know who this David is they reference—but I suspect the advice would have also been helpful at the communist party conference in Moscow.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shares an absurd episode from the conference when a round of applause was called to honor Joseph Stalin. But this was no ordinary round of applause, for there were police standing by on the lookout for people to arrest and send to prison. Under these circumstances, no one knew when to stop applauding—for to do so might signal a lack of support for their leader.
The applause went on for 1 minute, then 2 and 4, and then 8 and 10 minutes—but still, no one knew when to stop, for their choice was to remain standing with faux gratitude until they passed out from exhaustion, or sit down and risk arrest. They were in quite the pickle!
Finally, after eleven minutes had gone by, one brave soul did what no one else dared to do: he assumed “a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat,” at which point the ovation immediately ended as everyone followed his lead, finally safe to sit down.
The man had stopped the absurd wheel of feigned gratitude from spinning, but for his efforts he was also arrested and imprisoned for ten years, under the directive: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”
Research supports the notion that practicing gratitude can help increase feelings of well-being and happiness, however there are those who argue gratitude can also be a stumbling block for well-being when it’s forced.
The story of compulsory applause demonstrates this well, for such gratitude is shallow, and when compelled to be grateful for what we do not truly feel grateful for, it can indeed do more harm than good for our overall well-being, adding to our stress and anxiety rather than diminishing it.
What is the secret, then, to real and deep gratitude?
I don’t believe there is a secret, for only you will know when you are truly grateful for abiding blessings that abound.
As for me, though, I look for what makes me smile, for what puts my mind at ease, and for what makes my heart sing. I look for what expands my mind, provides a sense of purpose, and for what makes me feel supported.
No one can tell me what these things are, but I know them when I experience them: things like the expansive beauty of a mountain top, the confidence gained by speaking my truth, or the connection fostered by sharing a kind smile with a stranger.
These are small things, things that when I’m in a hurry, it can be all too easy to not even notice their presence—but when they are gone, their absence is certainly felt.
What absences do you feel the most? What might you do to express gratitude for such things?
Sonny Bloch, S. & Grace Lichtenstein, G. (1987). Inside real estate: The complete guide to buying and selling your home, co-op or condominium. Grove Press.
Solzhenitsyn, A.I. (1973). The gulag archipelago: 1918-1956. Éditions du Seuil. [TRANSLATION] Whitney, T.P., Willets, H. & Ericson, E. (2020). The gulag archipelago: The authorized abridgement. Harper Perennial, Modern Classics.
Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.