Gratitude is something that may not always be easy to feel or express, particularly of late. It seems that anytime we turn on television we are met with more tragedy and sadness, from pandemic updates, to killings in Nova Scotia, to major flooding in Fort Mc Murray Alberta, and most recently the downing of a military helicopter in the Ionian Sea. Yet amidst all this angst so many of us have found ways to reach out, to lend a helping hand, to bring joy to others who are alone. Instead of allowing anger and sadness to prevail we have risen to the challenge. We have witnessed an uplifting of others in acts both big and small that in and of themselves may not appear to be heroic. However, at their very core they are just that and at their best, they reflect genuine expressions of gratitude for all the goodness we experience in our fragile world.
What is gratitude? If you google the word or look it up in the dictionary , it defines it as: the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Yet how does gratitude come about? What circumstances or environments need to be present in order to create this sense of gratitude? Like many of us, my oldest son and his wife are now working from home. In a recent conversation, he spoke of spending more time with his sons which was both a gift ,but at times a challenge. This experience gave him cause to reflect and have a better understanding of what his wife’s experience was during her recent maternity leave, which gave way to a greater appreciation for his wife and his boys. He feels he is a better husband and father and because of all these things he is grateful.
Unfortunately we often take many things for granted and do not always have gratitude until something has slipped from our grasp. The pleasures of going to a concert or sporting event, hugging your kids or grandkids, visiting with your friends, skiing or hiking in our beautiful mountains may all have been things we may not have given a second thought to, yet just like that it’s gone. Gratitude often comes from stressful events, like we are presently experiencing. However, it also comes from having and taking the time to reflect on all the goodness in our life. The appreciation for people and things we have no matter how big or small. My dad was a very good role model for this. He lived with Addison disease and spent the majority of his life in and out of hospitals. He was always grateful for any days where he could cook and enjoy a family meal or share a laugh with friends. I remember a saying of his that has always stayed with me my whole life : “If you have your health, you have everything!” This statement is one that has always made me cognizant and truly grateful for my health and all the other gifts in my life.
Why is it important to be grateful? Looking beyond our own circumstances and having empathy towards others can make us more aware of our own situations. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect and reevaluate, inviting us to see things from a whole new perspective. Though there have not been meta studies in research, regarding the link between gratitude and happiness, one recent Harvard University study showed a very strong link between gratitude and our level of happiness. Showing gratitude could actually make you happier, and in a world where many of us are dealing with so many stressors in our daily lives, that is a welcomed friend.
So how can we create a culture of gratitude in our daily lives? There are a variety of things you can do, but you need to choose what works best for you. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- keep a gratitude journal and reflect on at least one positive thing each day, spend some quiet time reflecting and thinking about things in your life for which you are grateful
- send a card to someone who may be going through a difficult time and let them know why you are grateful for them
- volunteer with an organization that helps others who may be hurting
- share your talents and teach someone a skill that you have and they may not
- instead of telling someone else how you appreciate a colleague, friend,or family member tell them directly. They will be truly grateful!