In recent years, gratitude has been a prominent theme in the writing world. Think 30-day, 100-day, or even 1000-day gratitude challenges. Think gratitude journals and happiness jars . . . there are even apps to help us cultivate a life of gratitude.
I came to understand afresh the power of gratitude a few years ago while I was recovering from surgery. For a period of about 6 weeks, there was not a whole lot I could do besides lay around, watch TV, and rely on friends and loved ones to do what I could not do for myself. Pain meds made it impossible to read or write much, and TV quickly got old. I remember feeling joy as each little strength and ability came back, marveling at the way our bodies are wired to heal themselves, and giving thanks as my systems gradually swung back into order.
I’m a big believer in the practice of gratitude and the power of gratitude to change our outlook. In a nutshell, something happens in our brain as we learn to stay rooted in the present moment. As Brene Brown states in The Gifts of Imperfection, gratitude is much more than an attitude. Indeed, as she states, “gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.”
But this post is not about just the practice of gratitude (you can Google “gratitude” if it’s a practice you want to learn more about). Instead, I want to put forth the idea of taking gratitude one step further. My premise is this: if practicing gratitude can change our outlook, how much more could it improve our relationships and interactions with others? What if we expanded our practice to include the specific expression of gratitude to others throughout our days?
The power of gratitude lies in the way it adjusts our focus. I can be sick and focus on my aches and pains and my inability to do for myself, or I can choose to focus on the blessings of friendships, and God’s grace and healing. I can be tired and focus on all that I have to do (or didn’t do), or I can choose to focus on something else (getting through the day, what I remembered to do, a friend’s invitation to dinner, etc.). You get my drift. And we live in this day-to-day challenge of constantly adjusting our focus.
So what if we took gratitude to the streets, so to speak, starting with those we come in closest contact with throughout our days? What if in our relationships, we choose to focus on what is good, and then – in the spirit of practice – opted to specifically express gratitude to one another? I’m guessing that the farther out a person is in our circle of relationships, the easier this might be to execute. It’s probably going to be more challenging with those we rub shoulders with on a daily basis (especially where we feel rubbed the wrong way). But perhaps those are the relationships where we most need to adjust our focus?
Rather than set a ton of goals this year (although there will be goals), I’m opting to give myself little challenges along the way . . . with the idea of putting them into practice and observing the outcomes. So this is my first challenge of the new year – a gratitude challenge.
Conversation: What’s your experience been with regards to the practice of gratitude? Do you find it easier or harder to express gratitude to others?