On Gratitude

Thankful…
Blessed….
Fortunate….

Words that have been on my mind since the passing of Hurricane Irma. While feeling lucky to have been spared Irma’s direct wrath, I also harbor feelings of guilt, sadness, and more guilt to know that my relative good fortune came at the expense of so many others whose lives have been forever altered at best, lost at worst. How does one come to terms with this version of a survivor’s guilt?

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
~William Arthur Ward

“Thank you.” Powerful words, yes, but when is that enough?

One of my parenting “successes” has been instilling a true habit of saying “Thank you” in one of my three children. From a fairly young age, I would pick him up from playdates and hear the report from a friend’s mom, “He was so good. He said, ‘Thank you’!” And I was proud.

There is no denying that hearing those magic words really does make a difference, especially when they come from an unexpected source or in an unexpected situation. When you don’t think your boss has noticed how hard you have been working and says, “Thank you for your extra effort.” When your unprompted child says, “Thank you for taking care of me.” Or when your spouse simply says, “Thank you. I needed that.”

But there are also instances when you may wonder if “Thank you” is enough? Does it go far enough to make a difference or to express what is deep in the heart?

Right now, it seems that simply saying, “I am thankful for the safety of my family and the soundness of my home,” falls flat.

Gratitude is more than “Thank you.”

In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky says this of gratitude:

“The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness. Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking at the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is “counting blessings.” It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented. Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, avarice, hostility, worry, and irritation.”

A strategy for achieving happiness

Researchers have studied the expression of gratitude and its effect on general outlook, overall well being, and happiness. The so called “science of gratitude” is very real and is evidenced by the number of studies done in this field and the findings which show a very strong correlation between expressions of gratitude and happiness.

And it does make sense. You are where you choose to direct your focus. Those who choose to direct attention to the blessings in their lives are logically more happy than those who choose to focus attention of their troubles, shortcomings, and life’s challenges.

Considering “gratitude” as more than an expression of thanks widens the range of possibilities for the expression. Savoring, coping, appreciating, not taking anything for granted…..

So how can we perpetuate the value of gratitude, beyond “Thank you”? A few suggestions you may consider:

1. Use kind words. Choose a language of courtesy and kindness over words of negativity and complaint.
2  Include others in your plans. Reach out and ask if a friend or neighbor would like to join you at the library, for coffee, on a walk.
3. Offer to help. See a need and make the offer to fulfill that need before someone else needs to ask for help. Neighbor tells you of an upcoming vacation, ask if you may pick up his mail.
4. Give something…anything…. flowers picked from your yard, homemade goodies, a handwritten note. Provide evidence to someone that they are in your thoughts and in your heart, that their role in your life is meaningful and significant.
5. Check in… call, stop by, email, text, get in touch. Reach out through your voice, your words, and your presence. Show someone that they are important enough for you to take a pause in your routine of life to connect with them.
6. Keep a journal of your “blessings.” Taking time to consider and record that which makes you fortunate will generate an optimistic outlook on your life.
7. Do for others… hold the door, bring a drink, clean a mess you did not make, extend a favor. Pay it forward by doing that which is beyond the expected.
8. Don’t complain. Hold your words of complaint and avoid the cancerous spread of negativity.
9. Volunteer. Doing for others what they cannot do for themselves is the ultimate expression of gratitude for the blessings in your own life.