We need to develop an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is a blessing we give to one another (Robert Raynolds)

Richard looked into the eyes of his son and said, “If someone you knew were to give you a million dollars, and tell you to spend it anyway you want, what would be the first thing you would buy?” “That’s easy,” his son replied, “I’d buy a Thank You card!”

After the performance, a little girl asked the concert violinist for his autograph. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but my hands are tired from playing.” The little girl replied, “My hands are tired too. Tired from clapping.”

There’s a big difference between the two stories, isn’t there? One is a tale of gratitude and the other of ingratitude. What a pity the concert violinist, talented as he is, chose to be unhappy at the time the little girl spoke to him. For you cannot be ungrateful and happy at the same time. The surest way to always be happy is to always be grateful.

We need to develop an attitude of gratitude, an appreciation for the gift of life. One of America’s most influential Protestant spokesmen of the nineteenth century, Henry Ward Beecher, said, “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my eyes, and search for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it and how would it draw to itself the almost invisible particles by the mere power of attraction. The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessing. Only the iron in God’s sand is gold!”

The grateful heart is a magnet that attracts more blessings. How is this possible? Well, the blessings were always there; we just didn’t see them. Gratitude clears the haze that obscures the gifts surrounding us. To be enlightened is to live a life of gratitude. Or, as Johannes A. Gaertner wrote, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”

Are you living in a garden of abundance and joy or in a barren wilderness? Whatever your situation, Sarah Ban Breathnach explains why it is as it is: “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”

Our decision on whether we focus on the positive or the negative determines whether we live in heaven or hell. For example, when we clean or repair the house, do we focus on the drudgery or are we grateful for home ownership? When the going gets tough, do we focus on the unpleasantness or are we thankful for the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson? If we lose our job, are we devastated or are we joyful that we still have our family, friends, and life?

The rewards of gratitude are many. For one, it will change a life of emptiness to one of fulfillment. Unappreciative people are never satisfied and live empty lives. If we do not appreciate what we have now, how can we enjoy what we hope to have in the future? To have what you want; learn to want what you have. Also, when we are fully aware of the treasures we already have, we eliminate worry, fear, greed, and envy. Finally, an ever-grateful heart will soften the blow when tragic events occur.

Gratitude is more than a feeling of thankfulness, it is also an expression of that thankfulness. It’s fine to appreciate your spouse, but prove your gratitude with acts of kindness. It’s great to be thankful for your job, but show your gratitude by respecting your boss and working hard.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize how much we owe to others. However, one genius, Albert Einstein, explained it as follows: “Many times a day I realize how much my own life is built on the labors of my fellowmen, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

How can we develop our sense of gratitude? Two popular methods are with a “gratitude journal” or a “gratitude list.” If a journal, write at least five things you are grateful for each evening. Or, simply create a list of what you are thankful for. You can carry a small notebook with you and jot down items whenever they occur to you. Whether you work with a journal or a list, the idea is you are forcing yourself to focus on and become aware of your blessings. When adding your entries, don’t forget to consider the harm you have avoided, as well as the blessings you have received. For instance, you may not be blind, deaf, dumb, lame, or terminally ill. But many others are, so you have much to be grateful for. As you keep your journal or list daily, awareness of your blessings will become a part of your nature, and all the benefits will follow. Then, we will be able to say, as Clarence E. Hodges did, “For today and its blessings, I owe the world an attitude of gratitude.”