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The Fine Art of Gratitude

Gary Ryan Blair 12-17

"What if you gave someone a gift, and they neglected to thank you for it — would you be likely to give them another? Life is the same way. In order to attract more of the blessings that life has to offer, you must truly appreciate what you already have."

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- Ralph Marston

Think for just a moment of all the things that require practice: grammar, arithmetic, algebra, and even the guitar. Practice is probably something you think you're done with when you leave school or give up music lessons. But, have you ever thought of practicing the fine art of gratitude?

In our generation of instant satisfaction, the art of gratitude is nearly lost. How often do we pause to consider the seamstress who tailored the shirts that we wear? The truck driver who delivered the goods that we purchase at the store? The many hands that labor in the background to provide our many comforts?

The farmer grows the wheat, the wholesaler sells, the distributor supplies, the truck driver delivers, the baker kneads and bakes and the salesperson sells the bread. If you consider them, their support staff and those who provide the background material and ingredients, it requires hundreds of laborers to provide a single loaf of bread.

There is, indeed, an art to gratefulness that can best be expressed as a GREAT-FULLNESS.

Every single thing we have has been given to us, not necessarily because we deserved it, but gratuitously, for no known reason.

And whatever source we believe is the giver - some spiritual concept or simply the breathtaking randomness of the universe - when we give thanks, we take our place in the great wheel of life, recognizing our connection to one another and to all of creation.

A Prescription for Better Living

Suppose for just a moment that practicing the fine art of gratitude were not only among our most important positive emotions, but one that links directly to physical and mental well-being. Suppose it is in our self-interest to feel gratitude because it makes us better people. Surprisingly, that is what research has been indicating.

Consider that recent academic studies have shown:

  • People who describe themselves as feeling grateful in general tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole. These results hold even when researchers factor out such things as age, health, and income, equalizing for the fact that the young, the well-to-do, or the hale and hearty might have "more to be grateful for."
  • Grateful people tend to be less materialistic than the population as a whole and to suffer less anxiety about status or the accumulation of possessions. Partly because of this, they are more likely to describe themselves as happy or satisfied in life.
  • In an experiment with college students, those who kept a "gratitude journal," a weekly record of things they should feel grateful for, achieved better physical health, were more optimistic, exercised more regularly, and described themselves as happier than a control group of students who kept no journals but had the same overall measures of health, optimism, and exercise when the experiment began.
  • Grateful people are more spiritually aware and more likely to appreciate the interconnectedness of all life, regardless of whether they belong to specific religions.

The Benefits of Gratitude

While forgiveness heals the heart of old hurts, gratitude opens it to present love. Gratitude bestows many benefits. It dissolves negative feelings: anger and jealousy melt in its embrace, fear and defensiveness shrink. Gratitude deflates the barriers to love.

Gratitude also evokes happiness, which is itself a powerfully healing and beneficial emotion. The great Taoist sage Chuang Tzu even went so far as to say that "When one reaches happiness, one is close to perfection." When we are happy, we like to make others happy, and this fosters kindness and generosity.

Gratitude is a gift to everyone. No wonder Saint Paul urged us to "Rejoice always" and to "Give thanks in all circumstances."

Like other attitudes, gratitude can be cultivated. We don't have to wait for someone to shower us with gifts before feeling thankful. We can develop gratitude by reflecting on the gifts that are already ours. This reflections can be done for a minute, a day, or throughout a lifetime.

Most people celebrate their birthday and holidays, but those who cultivate gratitude celebrate every day. We can be grateful because we are happy, but we can also be happy because we are grateful.

We tend to forget how very different the laws that govern the mind are from the laws that operate in the physical world. In the world, if we give a physical thing to another person, whether it be a toy or a diamond, we lose it.

Yet in the mind, the opposite is true. Whatever we intend for another person we experience ourselves, whatever we give we gain, whatever we offer flowers in our own mind.

If you feel hatred toward someone, that hate boomerangs back and scorches your own mind. On the other hand, if you offer love to someone, that love first fills and heals your mind.

Once this is understood, the desire to hate and hurt starts to shrink, while the desire to love and help begins to flourish. The words "As you give so shall you receive" are profound statements about the way our minds work.

How Grateful Are You?

Do you light a candle or curse the darkness? Do you bless each and everything that comes your way, trusting that its meaning will become clear--even if you can't possibly see how in the moment?

Take the following quiz to see how grateful you are.

1. I have so much in life to be thankful for.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

2. When I look at the world, I don't see much to be grateful for.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

3. If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

4. I am grateful to a wide variety of people.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

5. As I get older, I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

6. Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.

Agree
Neutral
Disagree

Your response to each question will reveal your how well you practice the fine art of gratitude. Regardless of your responses, here's a closing exercise which will help you to put the principles of gratitude into practice.

I have so much in life to be thankful for such as...

I am most grateful to the following people and for the following reasons...

I intend on practicing the fine art of gratitude by doing the following...

"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road."

--John Henry Jowett

Everything Counts!

 


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