Being Grateful to become a Grateful Being and more..
Gratitude is a vital force in the world, a profoundly dignifying act that builds relationships, communities, and healthy human hearts.
Think back on a time when someone thanked you sincerely. How did it feel, and how long did that feeling linger?
Think of a time when you slowed down to appreciate, savour and recognize the effort that someone else has put in, the sacrifice, the suffering endured… and you shifted towards gratitude. Did the mood not lighten and your soul light up?
The science on this subject is overwhelming: in study after study, gratitude has been shown to lead to stronger relationships, better sleep, lower blood pressure, fewer trips to the doctor, fewer depressive symptoms, more patience, and more perseverance, among many other benefits.
In one particularly intriguing study, gratitude turns out to be a powerful antidote to the “Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry,” our all-too-common tendency to focus on the obstacles in our lives (headwinds) and overlook blessings (tailwinds), an imbalance that over time leads to feeling aggrieved and resentful. In short, focusing on headwinds breeds bitterness; focusing on tailwinds breeds appreciation — and the act of thanksgiving helps call our attention to the winds at our backs.
And don’t we all need the wind that gently helps us take another step forward? And don’t our steps feel lighter when we sense the wind and smile at its surprising presence?
Becoming More Grateful
OK, so gratitude is powerful — but how do we experience more of it in our lives?
It turns out that some of the most effective tools for increasing gratitude are also some of the simplest and most familiar. First, the basic act of not just counting our blessings but also recording them in a form we can revisit later — say, in a journal or notebook — has been shown to significantly enhance feelings of thankfulness over time.
Second, another simple action that has been shown to be even more effective: writing a letter of thanks to a friend, family member, acquaintance, or even a stranger. That’s right — thank-you notes can change your life! Indeed, we should reconceive the humble thank-you note not merely as a way to inform others about how grateful we are, but also as a way to help strengthen how grateful we are in the first place.
And a third practice isn’t only effective, it’s downright fun, even and especially in a time of pandemic: connecting with a friend once a week for coffee (or tea, or lunch - by phone, online, or on a physically-distanced walk), and intentionally devoting at least part of the conversation to sharing what we’re thankful for these days. When it comes to gratitude, just “saying it out loud” to someone we like and respect, not to mention hearing what they’re thankful for, is a powerful step toward noticing — and more deeply experiencing — the blessings in our lives.
A Graceful Life
The power of these practices makes sense: one of our most precious treasures is our time-and-attention, and how we spend that treasure will directly determine the health of our hearts:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21)
Will we spend it all focusing on “headwinds,” thereby creating the perfect petri dish for growing resentments and narratives of grievance? Or will we spend it focusing on “tailwinds,” thereby nourishing the soil for growing joy and narratives of appreciation? Gratitude journals, thank-you notes, and thankful conversations are simple, powerful, effective tools for investing the treasure of our time-and-attention wisely.
Now imagine how our souls, attitudes, and tone of voice will be as we mature in this direction.
Isn’t it great to be around someone who is positive, hopeful, and expressive (not extroverted) rather than someone who compares, complains, and exasperates?
Now imagine the domino effect of this as it ripples through our relational networks. Dare we dream of our homes, workplaces, and communities becoming spaces inhabited by persons of Grace, who know how how to walk the gait of gratitude?
Being Grateful Towards The Giver
Gratitude is a form of prayer. After all, we have to say ‘thank you’ to someone.
Seen in this light, expressing gratitude, even quietly in our hearts, can be a prayer.
In fact, so much of what happens in a church gathering is built around gratitude: the singing and praise, the confessions, and of course the Eucharist (the Greek word for Thanksgiving!), the recognition of fellow pilgrims, and our quiet acknowledgment of our journeys together and apart.
So much wind, of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is what we all miss during this Pandemic of being kept at home and apart because it is what we all need: to gather as finite, dependent beings and extol how the delights, pains, and questions of life are all gifts, and we are grateful for the tailwind found in each that advances us forward in life if we will let our feet move to its prodding. Who knows what vistas await?