(Artwork the courtesy of Karla Jean Gallagher. See more at www.missprintsandmasterpieces.com,)
My apologies to the Grateful Dead followers for this title. I chose it to write about gratitude because I believe without gratitude, there is a deadness to all that is joyful in this world. Being grateful is being truly alive.
In Praise of Gratitude
Gratitude has two components–emotional and behavioral. The emotional component is having a sense of appreciation for what is and what has been, and perhaps, even what might be. Elements of contentment and wonder sometimes lace through gratitude, further intensifying, enlarging, and deepening the experience. The behavioral component is outwardly expressing this inner sense and can range from a simple “thank you” to an outpouring of joyous celebration like King David leaping and dancing in the public streets upon the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel. Cultivating gratitude is a central theme in A Course in Miracles, which says,
“Gratitude goes hand in hand with love, and where one is the other must be found. For gratitude is but an aspect of the Love which is the Source of all creation.” –Workbook, lesson 195, 10: 2-3
The Buddha is quoted as saying, “A noble person is thankful and mindful of the favors he receives from others.” One of my favorite expressions of gratitude is from the ancient, mystical Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi. His poem “The Music We Are” expresses his deep and joyous gratitude over the arrival of spring.
Did you hear that winter’s over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their
laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made a singing master
over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul is dancing
through the king’s doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.
Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal
away. Last year’s miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-
existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the
bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector
of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring the wine! Love used to hide
inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by
in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be imprisoned.
You say, “End this poem here,
and wait for what’s next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.
Thankfully, the field of psychology has begun to recognize and study gratitude. Psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman in their pioneering book Character Strengths and Virtues devote an entire chapter to gratitude as a virtue, which they define as, “. . .a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift, whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty.”
Your capacity for gratitude is far more than you can imagine. If you are one of those rare people who regularly experiences and expresses gratitude, my accolades to you! If not, there is much you can do to develop your capacity for gratitude into a character strength. I recommend if you want to realize your potential for gratitude, you begin by setting a process goal of becoming a grateful person. (See “To Hell with Success” to learn more about process goals.) When you set a process goal you establish a clear, strong intention and you begin each day with that intention. Your conscious intention will influence your perceptions first. In other words, you will notice more opportunities to be grateful. This is much like deciding you want to buy a refrigerator. Once you set that intention, you begin to notice Sears and Walmart just happen to have sales on refrigerators! You might think, “Wow, what a coincidence!” What you may not realize is Walmart and Sears almost always have sales on refrigerators. You simply did not notice them because they were not relevant to you until you established your intention to buy a new one!
To help remind you of your intention you may want to have visual stimuli in prominent places. For example, I have a Buddha statue in my line of vision when I sit at the table where I eat most of my meals. The statue has the rotund Buddha standing with his hands clasped in front of him and his face has a look of abundance. Whenever my eyes alight on him, I am reminded of abundance and I remember to be grateful. Cut flowers or a particular plant is apt to work for many people. I have two rose bushes blossoming here year-round, so many mornings I bring in a rose or two and put them in a vase on the table. You might choose something mobile like a keychain with a symbol or any rendering that reminds you to be grateful. You could also put something on the dashboard of your car or hang a reminder from the rearview mirror.
When you set a process goal, you establish a natural, nearly effortless flow. You seamlessly move from intention to perception, to emotion, to action. When I get up in the morning and sit down for breakfast, I notice the Buddha, I remember to be grateful, and immediately I give thanks for the morning, for the fresh fruit at the table, for another day. If my partner has prepared and served the fruit, I thank her. All of this happens with ease and reinforces my intention for the rest of the day. Occasionally, my gratitude wells up from deep inside and I experience a sense of lightness and joy that is all-embracing.
The Last Suggestion
One more way to proceed with a process goal is to keep a journal. (I recommend this in my article “Whence Kindness?”) This need not be burdensome. Call it your Gratitude Journal and make brief entries whenever you are moved to do so. Or you can set a time in the morning or evening to note when you felt gratitude, why, and how you expressed it. I can assure you that becoming a grateful person opens you to so much more and . . . so much less! Less anger, anxiety, worry, fear, resentment, and unforgiveness. More assurance, joy, creativity, harmony, and peace. You choose!