The Magic of Gratitude

A number of people asked me to publish my Sunday May 7 reflection on The Magic of Gratitude.  I am humbled and honoured to do so … thank you for asking!

It is easy to develop a negative spirit.  All we need to do is watch the News, or Late Night TV, or look at our business or church or life or image in the mirror first thing in the morning.  (Yikes!)  It is easy to see only the negatives, and get cranky and cynical.

It doesn’t have to go this way. (And before I go further, what follows is not an invitation to deny hardship, suffering or failure; rather what follows is an invitation to find a path to prevail anyway).

There is a magical power in the practice of gratitude.  Deciding and doing gratitude is like throwing the switch on train tracks it shifts us to a new path, not of scarcity but of abundance.  And the good news is that this magic wand is in our hands already!

Before I suggest some ways to practice gratitude – consider at least 8 benefits we receive, in addition to a losing the “Grinch” outlook.  By choosing to be thankful we gain:

  1. Confidence: Try this when you are feeling anxious about something. Practice gratitude.  Remember one or several gifts you have received. Realize you were considered worthy to receive those gifts … and so also to receive a positive response to your anxiety issue.  You are not “less than” others.  So, try – and win or lose, you are still gifted.
  2. Creativity: When a challenge arises, and we respond from a posture of negativity (scarcity) – what happens?  We get angry, we blame, and, without noticing, we quit trying to solve the problem, at least for a time.  When we approach a problem-solving situation with a perspective of gratitude, we are more confident; we ponder what nuance can be learned, what improvement can be found.  Disruption becomes a clue for discovery not frustration. (Remember Edison’s retort about his “failed filaments”?  “I have learned several thousand things that won’t work!'”)
  3. Openess: Gratitude opens us up. Consider what we do when we receive something for which we are grateful —we open our hands for the gift; we open our mouth for the taste of his/her ice-cream; we open our front door for the parcel. It opens us inwardly as well.  We can feel ourselves relating to wider dimensions.
  4. Humility: When we are grateful, we realize how much comes to us from beyond, from individuals, the economy, from nature, the Divine. We realize we could easily not have received the blessing and that we either could not have earned it, or that we were gifted to be able to earn it;  we see how much of our world turns on trust-filled sharing.
  5. Spirituality: Gratitude reminds us that life is about something bigger than ourselves, and there is something good and gracious in that something more. Gratitude makes us more appreciative of community and gives us improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises. Gratitude expands our capacity for forgiveness if we are grateful for having been forgiven ourselves.
  6. Generosity: When we recognize how much we have received for free, undeserved, want to share again in similar circumstances. John Pentland (Fishing Tips) says “gratitude is a path that leads to happiness, and generosity is its twin.”
  7. Attractiveness: Gratitude attracts what we want: Imagine we are giving somebody a foot massage, and you ask, “How is it?” and they answer, “Meh!” All of a sudden, you start to think, “I’m done here.” If that same person answered, “It’s the best! thank you” we probably would think, Okay, then, “I’ll do the other foot too!”  It is human nature to want to feel as if we’re making an impact, to respond to gratitude.
  8. Resilience:  It is easy to be grateful when we win a lottery. But when things don’t turn out as we hope, we do not need to angrily conclude that the universe is against us, and curse everything around us.  We can be in discomfort, in pain, in grief, and we can acknowledge and honestly face the suffering, and at the very same time be thankful.  We can be grateful for what we had before it was lost, grateful that we still can feel and think and communicate about it, grateful for those who care for us still, grateful that tides turn and we may hope for blessing beyond the present plight.  We can be grateful for faith and God’s unexpected blessings, for learnings that cannot come in any other way but through struggle and pain, and for the option of prayer, and putting ourselves in God’s gracious hands. Remember how Jesus prayed on Maundy Thursday – giving thanks to God, and in Gethsemane praying till sweat dripped like blood!  Doesn’t that suggest struggle and anguish.  And yet, there was gratitude and trust in God’s purpose.  In times of struggle and anguish, may be when we actually need gratitude the most.

I often invite the congregation to prayer saying: “Let us adopt an attitude of gratitude.” But that need not be a platitude. Gratitude can become 24/7 posture of Christian life.  Here are 7 ways of thankfulness we regularly can wave the grateful-wand: 

  1. Gratitude Moments: Attend to moments when feeling spontaneously arises. Take time to focus on it.  Rick Hanson explains that negative experiences are like “Velcro” that stick in our minds, while positive experiences are like “Teflon”; they readily slip away.  Linger on thoughts of gratitude.  Build a narrative about it.  Embed it in your memory.
  2. Gratitude Reminders: When we notice ourselves gossiping, complaining, judging blaming start the shift of spirit by internally saying “thank you.”  These moments of pique can actually be little “angels” that remind us to shift our focus to gratitude.
  3. Gratitude Meditations: Schedule 2-5 minute “gratitude meditations.” We can take a few deep breaths before our gratitude exercises to be grounded, present, mindful. Then we can think about what you are grateful for each morning.  In the evening, read John O’Donohue’s Blessing at the End of the Day (To Bless The Space Between Us, p. 98).
  4. Gratitude Journal: we can develop a diary of things that inspired us, made us happy, brought us a deep sense of satisfaction, peace, or joy. As we continue to write, we try not to repeat items from previous days.  This makes us look more deeply at all the little things that enhance our life and give you joy … waking in a warm bed; our favorite song; a phone call from a friend; the ability to touch, see, or hear; electricity; the beating of our heart; a hug.  Also, we can notice what we appreciate about ourselves – fueling further confidence, creativity, humility … etc.
  5. Gratitude Notes: Someone (William Ward) said:Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”  So we can write an email to someone who has made a difference to us. We can post an actual card – which demonstrates the time and care you have taken.  We can go in person to deliver our thanks; we can express gratitude at meals alone or with loved ones. We can say thank particularly to those who have served us! Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude. (And we remember how good it feels to be noticed).
  6. Gratitude Walk: This is a particularly useful practice when we’re down, or filled with stress and worry. Set aside 20 minutes and stroll through the neighborhood, through a park, around the office, somewhere in nature. As we walk, we can consider the many things for which we are grateful … nurturing relationships, material comforts, the body that allows us to experience the world, the mind that allows us to really understand ourselves, and our essential spiritual nature. We can breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling our lungs and making our life possible, we can pay attention to our senses—everything we’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and maybe even tasting.  See how many things you can find to feel grateful for. This is a powerful way to shift our mood and open to the flow of abundance that surrounds us.
  7. Gratitude Rituals in Community: In the synagogue the Torah is read entirely every year. On the day that marks the final reading for that year, Simchat Torah, the whole congregation rejoices, celebrating the gift of the word of God, the Torah. The usually sedate synagogue is filled with music and dancing. The ark that houses the congregation’s Torah scrolls is opened up, and the scrolls are brought out and distributed throughout the congregation. Holding the scrolls high, the worshipers dance, weaving in and out, laughing, crying, rejoicing, embracing the gift that God has given to them, celebrating that they are living life “doing” the Torah.  In the Christian community we have a frequent opportunity to practice gratitude called Communion.  (The word Eucharist is literally Greek for “thanksgiving”).  We can participate in this rite more deeply – when it is a regular reminder to be grateful – to God the creator – our shepherd by whom we shall not lack; to Christ for divine love made flesh; for the holy Spirit healing and bringing hope; for fellow citizens in the Kin_dom, for neighbours and strangers who bless; for life in all dimensions. We too can sing and dance and rejoice more fully, celebrating the Giver!

When we practice gratitude noticing the big things we’re grateful for, the small things, annoyances, and disappointments won’t overwhelm us so easily. We remember how we are blessed in every moment and we won’t let pettiness and negativity suck the joy out of life.  When we see something as a blessing, we stop experiencing it as effortful and allow it to expand us.  Remember, as the medieval mystic Meister Eckhardt once said, “If the only prayer you say in our life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  

Thanks      be      to     God!

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