Continuing Our Quest to Develop Gratefulness in Our Lives
Last week, we discussed what gratitude is and the benefits of practicing thankfulness in your everyday life. If you are a natural pessimist, don’t worry. The benefits of gratitude aren’t only available to people with a naturally grateful disposition. Instead, feeling grateful is a skill we can develop with discipline, reaping its rewards along the way.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Living your life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate. The goal is not to block out difficulties, but rather, to approach such difficulties with a different perspective. Appreciation softens us. It soothes our turbulent minds by connecting us with the wonderfully ordinary things, big and small, that we might otherwise take for granted.
Faith Murrell, author of the blog Contemplare, created this fantastic short video about Gratitude and finding joy in the small, ordinary things of life.
You cannot switch a flip and become an incredibly grateful and gracious person. Developing virtues takes time. Practice will never make perfect in this life, but practice does bring us ever closer to excellence. Given the significance of gratitude on our own well-being, it is crucial that we invest in our character growth. Here are some activities for cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving:
Keep a gratitude journal. Start recording at least three thinkings for which you are grateful each day. And I would encourage you to obtain a physical journal and handwrite these notes of thanksgiving. Evidence also suggests that how we keep a gratitude journal—how often we write in it or whether we express our gratitude to others—can influence its impact.
In this journal, make it a priority to savor the good in your life. Don’t merely gloss over the beauty and pleasures that come your way. Recognize the positive things that happen each day, big and small. While you could record an oral journal, I would recommend a physical, written copy. When you engage your brain and body in the writing process, it helps solidify those memories in your mind. Another tip would be to pair journaling with taking long walks outside.
Gratitude letters are similar to Thank You notes. Consider handwriting such notes to influential figures in your life whom you have never properly thanked. Letters of appreciation provide strong and long-lasting happiness boosts, especially when delivered in person. Such notes can also impact the meaningful relationships you have with others.
What’s Behind the Action of Gratitude?
When you receive a gift, whether a physical object or simply words of encouragement or praise, consider how someone tried, intentionally, to bring that goodness into your life, even at a cost to themselves. The giver must sacrifice something for the receiver, or else the action becomes almost worthless. Remember, it is also blessed to give as you receive. Consider how you might spread light and joy in another person’s life today.
Teaching Others Gratitude
Teach children to give thanks. A spirit of gratitude, delighting in community and connection, cannot coexist with depression, anxiety, and isolation. You can create a grateful learning environment by fostering appreciation among staff and working to counter a culture of complaining. In the workplace, it also benefits everyone to practice healthy conflict, speak with candor, and express praise and support. When you create opportunities for gratitude, space opens up for people to be transparent and vulnerable.
As odd as it may sound, pondering our own mortality–our own inevitable death–increases our gratefulness for life. We cannot be the center of the universe, or else the world would cease to exist when we die, and it never does. We have been blessed with life by Someone beyond our immediate senses and even beyond our complete comprehension.
Contemplating the fact that our every breath depends upon the Will of our Creator should, and must, encourage our souls to respond with outpourings of joy, thankfulness, and worship.
Understand Time & Seasons
Winter, spring, summer, autumn. Nature embraces different seasons of life. Spring signifies new birth and resurrection from the death, despair, and numbing cold of winter. Summer represents the Beauty, Joy, and delight of youth. Autumn is the maturation of life, the harvest of the fruit we planted, tended, and cultivated in our gardens and hearts. Then comes the final end. We rest, knowing we have done well, lived well, loved well. Winter, yes, is a hard season, but also allows a time of rest, community, and warmth as we gather together to celebrate and partake of the year’s harvest.
We all experience seasons and times in our own lives. Consider the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The Church calendar–our liturgy–embodies the idea of seasons as benchmarks of rest, remembrance, restoration, and resurrection. We have Advent, anxious anticipation of Jesus’ birth, leading to Christmas; the entire period of Lent and fasting; Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday; and so many more days and moments to reflect upon the Goodness, Beauty, and Truthfulness of God.
Understanding the different times and seasons of life–of giving up during fasting to savor more our blessings, of praying, of suffering, of rest, of doing–increases our thankfulness to our Lord and Savior.
For more ideas, check out this post on gratitude. Or this one. Just remember, gratefulness is a choice we must make every day, to reject the anger, resentment, envy, and pride so prevalent in this world, and to embrace the joy, hope, delight, and wonder that brings peace, flourishing, and love. Gratefulness leads to rest, to SHALOM.