Every Thanksgiving, we gather with friends and family, cook large quantities of food, sit in front of big screens watching play after play in a tryptophan coma, and count our blessings. It feels good when we go around the table and express our thanks for the people and things that make our lives better. If we are lucky, it is a day we can turn the tangible outer rewards, reflected in the feast in front of us, to the inward rewards of friendship and family.
We all know that being in a state of gratitude promotes happiness. For years, I have sporadically picked up my gratitude journal and scribbled down 10 things I’m grateful for each evening before I turn out the lights. It’s an “in your face” written reminder that my blessings outweigh my difficulties and an effort to steer discouragement and frustration another direction when I forget.
I received a number of lovely cards and texts from friends telling me that they were grateful to have me in their lives and the feeling is resoundingly mutual! But, I woke up the next day and thought about the outpouring of notes and wished that they could be spaced out over the year. After all, we all like to know we are special more than one day a year. It works both ways, so I made a note to self to make this a daily practice in the months to come.
And then I went down the rabbit hole and thought about this word “gratitude” and what a double edge sword it is. On the one hand, gratitude is the practice of acknowledging the good in others, the benefits they have bestowed on us and our thankfulness for what they have done for us. On the other hand, it’s all about us, what we have received from them. It’s not at all about what we have done for them - unless we are speaking about their sense of gratitude, not ours.
Historically, gratitude was known as a virtue that leads to action, it is not a result of another’s actions. Great philosophers, such as Cicero, tell us that gratitude is an action of returning a favor and is not just a sentiment or a feeling that contributes to our own self-worth. So that leaves me with the next question.
What will you do to continue to earn that gratitude that others have offered up to you? Because its apparently not about your past actions but about your future actions. It is very much a yin yang - what goes around, comes around. You are grateful for the benefits others have bestowed upon you and others are grateful for the cherished moments you have given them. How do we keep this cycle going to lift up this energy of grace?
It seems to me that ultimately, we must continually be doing for others, recognizing the humanity and the needs of the world around us. We must each march forward as the Luke Skywalkers of our communities, rattling our lightsabers - expecting no gratitude. simply contributing for the good of all.
Turkey comas and tag football feel pretty wonderful on a crisp November day but the following day we wake up to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, crowded shopping malls and that gratitude begins to dwindle. I’m convinced that only in walking the talk day in and day out, at our offices and homes, with our families and friends, can the feeling last.
Stepping out into this world in need and offering up your special gifts and talents is a solid start. We all need you and will be eternally grateful if you do. We will even advance you a little gratitude now because … Gratitude does not follow action - Action follows gratitude.
Copyright © 2018
Linda Lattimore – all rights reserved