“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton
It’s that time of year when people are talking about gratitude. In fact we can hear so much about gratitude that it almost begins to lose its meaning. We hear about the benefits of gratitude repeatedly and they are quite striking. Study after study has concluded that gratitude makes us happier, healthier, more resilient, and more pleasant to be around. Who doesn’t want that? The challenge comes in making it real in our lives. How can we become a more grateful person?
With so much talk about gratitude, what does it actually mean? I think it is more than something we feel or do. In fact, that can be part of the challenge. There are times when it’s hard to feel grateful. How many parents of young children can relate to that as we ask them, “what do you say” over and over in hopes of our children saying “thank you” even when they don’t like the vegetables that Grandma served at dinner or the toy that their friend gave them as a birthday gift. Of course, our great hope is that gratitude will also become more than something they should do but a practice that brings life to them and those around them. More and more today we need to be reminded that our feelings come and go. Though we may not always feel grateful, action can sometimes be the key to moving us in the right direction. If we try to act grateful, we may just start to feel grateful. Sometimes before we can be grateful, we may need to name the things that we are not grateful for in order to clear the way to see something we do appreciate. Gratitude can mean being thankful for good things while struggling with the hard things of life.
In defining gratitude, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states it is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness, gratefulness, thanks, appreciation.” The Harvard Medical School adds. “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves.”
Gratitude is something we need to work on and practice. Sometimes we need to change the way we look at things in order to experience it more fully. Sometimes we need to go through the motions, intentionally saying thank you as we go through our day, to the cashier at the grocery store or to the family member who cooked us dinner. The small repeated act of expressing thanks can help move us toward experiencing gratitude. We can also grow in gratitude as we compliment others, write thank you notes, practice active listening, and make an effort to be kind and generous. As we offer grace to ourselves and others, something inside us seems to open and we realize the wonder of goodness beyond us: gratitude. The folks at the Harvard Medical School are right. Gratitude connects us to something larger than ourselves. It is good and humbling. Gratitude is a gift we can seek and receive.