Gratitude is often trotted out around Thanksgiving as a seasonal interest, and then put away for another year.
The spiritual discipline of gratitude is intentionally chosen, deliberately trained, and exercised in all circumstances. The spiritual discipline of gratitude is practiced not just because it feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do.
The practice of gratitude results in a number of very practical, tangible benefits to body and mind. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically vetted than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being.
Becoming more grateful does not involve a denial of the reality of life’s hard edges and sharp sorrows. Through the lens of gratitude, you come to better recognize the good, to see the many gifts, benefits, and mercies that are present in your life that might otherwise remain hidden and ignored.
Gratitude is arguably the foundation of good character. Conversely, ingratitude is the root of all vice. When you are grateful for what you have, you spend less time comparing yourself to others, and less time making poor, fruitless decisions based on those comparisons.
Recognizing that the good in one’s life comes at least partially from outside the self develops a vital sense of humility. Gratitude turns our gaze outward instead of inward, helping us recognize realities outside ourselves. We recognize that we are not completely self-sufficient and independent. Gratitude allows us to appreciate and affirm the worth and value of the people, structures, and supernatural powers around us rather than taking them for granted.
Research has found that gratitude has a huge effect on improving relationships. When you realize what you’ve been given, you’re motivated to give back: the more you recognize what others have done for you, the more you want to do for them; the more you appreciate the world, the more you want to make it better. Cultivating and then expressing gratitude thus starts a web of virtue; it spreads goodness like a very positive contagion that can literally transform families, workplaces, communities, and the world at large.
One obstacle to greater gratitude is simple busyness and distraction. Another obstacle to gratitude is an ingrained penchant for noticing the negative over the positive. A third obstacle is envy. It’s hard to be happy with what you have, when it seems like other people have better things.
Humans are interdependent; sometimes we give and sometimes we receive.
Once you start practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude, you come to see that while you can expect things of people with whom you enter into a relationship or exchange, you’re never wholly entitled to the material and emotional goods they produce. Once you realize life doesn’t owe you anything, everything in it becomes a gift.
Anyone can intentionally cultivate gratitude as a spiritual discipline. While becoming more grateful takes significant intentional effort at first, over time it will become easier; what begins as consciously chosen behavior will eventually become an ingrained attitude — your default response to the world.
Outwardly acknowledging the gifts we receive checks our pride, humbles our souls, and forges a link that will expand beyond ourselves to become an ever-widening chain of service and virtue.
Even though those two words are so easy to say, most people don’t express them often enough. We forget that life doesn’t ultimately owe us anything, that nothing is guaranteed, that we’re not wholly entitled to the good things we get. We forget that everything is a gift. But it is. So say thank you to everyone, for just about everything. If it isn’t already, start making a simple “thank you” a frequent, fundamental part of your daily language.
Let’s trot gratitude out again this Thanksgiving, but let’s not then put it away for another year but keep expressing it.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.
photo credit: mimitalks, married, under grace <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7380141@N04/11060278644″>How Can We Say Thanks to God? in an artsy video with a beautiful song (view in HD)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>