Gratitude From the Heart and Mind
"Say ‘shukran,’ honey," I whispered.
My two-year-old, new lollipop in hand, looked at me out of the corner of her eye.
The Moroccan shop owner burst into a smile, scooped the little girl up, and kissed her face.
In any language, thanks are appreciated.
My children learned to say “thank you” early on. I admit that I wanted to make myself look good, because I had been told, "Children reflect their parents.” I didn't want to look unappreciative or snobby! No way! I taught them that it was polite and nice to say “thanks.” Sure, it was good training, but it didn't indicate that my children’s hearts were full of gratitude. That feat was beyond my ability.
But what about me? Did I have a thankful heart that cultivated gratitude?
It’s reflective of the Moroccan proverb, “Al Mousawa9 Men Bara Ash KhBarak Men L Dakhel” which translates—”Beautiful on the outside, but how's the inside?” Not wanting to be two-faced, I wanted the inside to reflect my outer smiles and warm words.
Does it matter? Is it even important?
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is an attitude of thankfulness and a desire to show appreciation. It's showing grace or kindness in response to receiving it. It's slowing down to observe, to be thoughtful, and to express thanks.
Emmons and McCullough's 2003 study found that a focus on gratitude, or being thankful, led to a progressive boost in well-being, compared to focusing on irritants or even neutral life events.
What areas of well-being?
The "practicing thankfulness" group:
Had a more positive assessment of their lives
Spent more time exercising
Were more likely to offer emotional support to others
Had better sleep quality
Had a sense of connectedness to others
More Benefits of Gratitude
Even more studies show that those who practice gratitude regularly have dozens of other benefits . . . including the following . . .
Reduction in anger responses
Increased serotonin and dopamine levels (which is what antidepressants do)
More relaxed heart
Lengthened and more refreshing sleep
Increased endorphin levels
Augmented ability to cope with pain and stress
Strengthened immune system
Most of us would readily agree that dwelling on the negative, the hassles, and the disappointments of life doesn't lead to positive living. Emmons and McCullough's study also found that people who gave thanks for things in their life scored higher than other groups . . . higher than a group who simply reflected on their week and another group that compared themselves positively to others. So, merely recalling your day without an attitude of thanksgiving or reflecting, "At least I'm doing better than so-and-so" doesn't reap the higher scores of well-being given to the thankfulness group.
Gratitude not only benefits those who come in contact with the thankful person, but it positively affects the thankful person too.
Professor of ethics, Patrick Fitzgerald (Gratitude and Justice. Ethics. 1998) mentions three ingredients in the definition and expression of gratitude: appreciation, goodwill, and a desire to act based on the first two.
Let's look at these to see how we can grow in gratefulness.
1. Appreciation = focusing on thinking
Appreciation, by definition, includes a recognition of good characteristics and an understanding. In order to recognize, we need to see and to understand. We need to process. This includes thinking rightly about a situation and noticing details.
You see a beautiful sunset and internally say, "Wow, that’s amazing!" That’s appreciation. The store vendor gives you too little change, catches himself, even though you didn’t notice, and calls you back to correct his mistake. Your mind is overwhelmed with, “That’s SO kind.” That’s appreciation.
We simply can't appreciate if we are unaware, unmindful, forgetful, or self-focused. One way to increase appreciation is to slow down to notice. Add thoughtfulness to your day. Look for small things that bring a smile and give thanks.
2. Goodwill = focusing on attitude
Goodwill includes an inner cooperative attitude and friendly feelings. It’s that warm feeling you experience when you see a child struggling to reach something, and you want to help them.
Often, to understand the depth of a word, it's helpful to look at its opposite. If we don't have an attitude that's full of goodwill, we may be demanding, hold grudges, feel entitled, jealous, judgmental, sarcastic, grumpy, and bitter. Ouch! These attitudes short circuit feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. Putting aside these attitudes and growing in goodwill will affect our outer display of thankfulness.
3. Desire to act, based on our thinking rightly and our attitude = focusing on action
How can we show forth our gratefulness that stems from our noticing and appreciating . . . our gratefulness that comes from an inner desire to bless and to be generous?
What are a few practical ways to actively show our gratitude?
Write a handwritten note thanking someone who has influenced you.
Journal 5 things a day that you are thankful for.
Give time to a meaningful cause. Declare your gratitude for that person or experience to others.
Write to a group sharing your thanks for their collective role in a cause you appreciate.
Thankful words and actions spring out of appreciative thoughts and a heart full of goodwill.
Thankful words and actions benefit the one who practices them by increasing well-being.
Thankful words and actions have more favorable results than simply recalling the events of the week or feeling superior to someone else.
So go ahead, say thank you!
Backed by a benevolent heart and an appreciative mind, it's beautiful inside and out.