Gratitude used interchangeably with appreciation and thankfulness, lets us experience life in all its colorful richness and fullness. There are many definitions of gratitude as people attempt to grasp its meaning in their lives. Gratitude is, among other things, a deep-seated feeling of satisfaction within each of us that recognizes the beauty and grace in our lives.
Gratitude lets us see the glass as half full under a running faucet of plenty. “Thank you” are two words that can transform your life whether you are communicating with people or the Divine Presence in your life. Gratitude ushers in a sense of peace, builds a sense of connection, creates a sense that we will be okay, and expands and deepens us even if we only touch it briefly. It happens when we don’t take the people and our circumstances for granted.
As my cancer story unfolded, I became acutely aware that I had much for which to be grateful. I found the tumor early, and it was small. The lumpectomy was uneventful. I had no post-surgical pain. The “cell margins” and lymph nodes were clear, indicators that the tumor had not metastasized. I did not require chemotherapy. Friends brought food and transported me to all thirty-three radiation treatments. Two of my friends took me into their home for several days following surgery. Gratitude, helping me see what could have happened but did not, showing me the profound good of everyone who attended to me, giving me an ever-expanding sense of relief, brought me many smiles and a lot of laughter. I am not grateful for cancer invading my body, but I am quite grateful for the outcome that followed. I am grateful for all the medical professionals who treated me with respect and dignity and answered all my questions. I am grateful for the prayers of friends.
Gratitude is easy to practice and often takes virtually no time to express. “Thank you” takes only a couple of seconds. And, of course, fervent, focused, and detailed expressions of gratitude are always in order. You can express gratitude out loud, silently, by phone, face to face, text, voicemail, email, card, letter, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, or even a sky-writing plane. Expressing gratitude is a joyful outpouring of recognition for the goodness and grace of life.
Sometimes, gratitude is difficult. Gratitude is not a panacea, a quick fix, or a cure-all for pain. Be wary of sentences spoken by others or in our mind that begin with a terse, “You ought to be grateful that…” We will not always feel grateful for the pain, emotional and physical, in our lives. We may not find the nugget of gold in a painful situation, or it may take a very long time. When gratitude is hard, the best recourse may be using our coping skills and mechanisms: counseling, journaling, supportive and trusted friends and family members, prayer and medication if those practices are useful, leaning on our spiritual foundation.
Gratitude does not mean we never feel angry or scared or frustrated or annoyed or lonely. It does not mean that we stop trying to live our best life through continuous learning and evolution. We can express gratitude for what we have while striving for self-development or improved circumstances. For example, we may say, “I’m grateful to be employed, and I’m looking for a more fulfilling, higher-paying job.
To begin a practice of gratitude, take a few moments through your day to notice a favorable situation, good news, or a kindness. Be grateful for uneventful days and positive outcomes, recognizing that some situations could have been much worse.
Here are fifteen ways to bring more gratitude into your life:
- Take moments throughout your day to notice the good happening in your life and around you. Perhaps you find a dollar bill on the sidewalk or a parking meter with time on it.
- Every day at bedtime, take time to reflect on your day, and write three things you are thankful for and why. Then write three things that happened during the day that brought you peace, relief, pleasure, or joy and why. Focused reflection and writing can relax you for restful, refreshing sleep.
- Create a gratitude journal. You can go back over your entries and see the accumulation of good things in your life. You may be surprised at the sheer volume of good stuff in your days.
- Carry a small notebook to capture snippets and nuggets of gratitude throughout your day. Your notes will spark your memory when you sit down to write.
- Pay for the meal or beverage for the person behind you in line. You’d be amazed how far down the line this can go, sometimes for hours (True story—no one wanted to be the one to break the chain.).
- Be kind, polite, supportive, and gracious. Extending courtesy to others feels good and may bring out gratitude in them.
- Make a conscious effort to smile and laugh often. Need I say more?
- Savor things that stimulate awe in you. Awe ushers in reverence and reverence leads to gratitude.
- Practice feeling grateful even when it is not a holiday. Everyday gratitude makes holidays even more precious.
- Share your gratitude with those around you, in your interactions and your relationships. One of the hallmarks of gratitude is to share feelings of satisfaction and connection.
- Compliment others. Find something good in other people and play to their strengths. It could turn around someone’s otherwise unpleasant day. It can be as simple as saying, “Nice socks,” or “Great haircut,” to “You always have a gracious disposition. I appreciate that,” or “You have a beautiful smile.”
- Slow down. Take time to notice, savor, and celebrate the beauty and grace of life.
- Celebrate the wonder of Life. Life is wondrous and precious. Take time to enjoy the mundane as well as the profound events and circumstances and conventions of life.
- Remember that bad things that did not happen are good things. Breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude when situations did not turn out as bad as they could have.
- Acknowledge that some circumstances are difficult to experience.
Look for ways to acknowledge the beauty and grace of life and share your gratitude as often as possible. Let your gratitude illuminate the way for others, in all your interactions and relationships. Thank you for the presence of Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center in the Des Moines metro area. Thank you to the Center for allowing me to share my heart. Thank you to all of you for letting me into your life.
Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.
To read more of Billie’s blogs: www.dmpcc.org/Billie