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Do You Take Life for Granted, or with Gratitude?
By Chuck Gallozzi
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 fellow men, 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, 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."
Someone once asked, "What makes you happy?"
"What makes you unhappy?" came the reply. After all, if we are grateful for what we are, do, and have, how can we be unhappy? Such is the magnitude of gratitude. Our happiness hinges on it. Gratitude, appreciation, or thankfulness never escaped the attention of the great philosophers. Marcus T. Cicero, for example, said, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."
How about you? Are you grateful for ALL your blessings? Of course, we are grateful for unexpected, pleasant surprises. For instance, if we were to win the lottery, inherit a fortune, get an unexpected bonus or raise, we will be brimming over with thankfulness.
But what about the blessings we live with daily. Aren't we so used to them that we take them for granted? Here are some examples of good fortune that we may have forgotten to be grateful for: food, shelter, clothing; the country we live in; opportunities to work, play, and study; the miracle of life; the misfortunes we have avoided; the diversity and spice of life; good health; our gifts and talents; our achievements; freedom of speech; the kindness, encouragement, and help we get from others; the technology that makes life more pleasant (air-conditioning, appliances, computers); the ability to create our destiny with the power of choice; art, music, dance, poetry, and beauty; our friends, family, and pets.
But wait, there's yet another category of events and circumstances that we often neglect to be thankful for, and that's the difficulties we struggle with and the obstacles we have to overcome. For these are what make us stronger.
Even our memories can be a source of great joy, for as Amelia C. Welby wrote, "As the dew to the blossom, the bud to the bee; As the scent to the rose, are those memories to me." And what about nature; shouldn't it also be a great source of gratitude? Here's how Anne Morrow Lindbergh answers that question, "One can get just as much exultation in losing oneself in a little thing as in a big thing. It is nice to think how one can be recklessly lost in a daisy."
Despite the many handicaps she had to endue, Helen Keller was grateful. That being so, you and I can do the same. Here is what she said, "So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied." That's what happy people do. They focus on what they have, not on what they lack. They do so for good reason, for as Epicurus taught, "Do not spoil (the pleasure of) what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."
If you would be rich, be grateful, for gratitude is riches and ingratitude is poverty. Rather than complain about what you lack, be grateful for what you have. Charles Dickens agrees, for he wrote, "Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." To energize your day, start it by counting your blessings. You will find that "Appreciation is yeast, lifting ordinary to extraordinary" (Mary-Ann Petro). And when life gets hectic and you're feeling run down, pause a moment and reflect on your blessings. This practice will lift your mood.
Gratitude restores balance to our spirit. You see, those who feel empty inside often try to fill that void with possessions. But that never works because our appetite is insatiable. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz explains: "Man never has what he wants, because what he wants is everything." Julius Charles Hare continues, "How few are our real wants (needs), and how easy is it to satisfy them! Our imaginary ones are boundless and insatiable."
The best way to get rid of a feeling of emptiness is to look inward and develop a grateful heart. When we do so, we will find that GRATEFULNESS gives a GREAT FULLNESS to the heart. Francis Beaumont expands on this notion, "He is not rich that possesses much, but he that covets no more; and he is not poor that enjoys little, but he that wants too much."
The world is a mirror, reflecting whatever we send out. If we are grumpy, everywhere we go, we will meet resistance, anger, and hostility. Yet, if our heart is filled with gratitude and our every thought, word, and deed is one of kindness, no matter where we go, every door will open. St. Basil said something similar, "A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy, reaps friendship; he who plants kindness, gathers love; pleasure bestowed on a grateful mind was never sterile, but generally gratitude begets reward."
When we are thankful for the miracle of life and its wondrous gifts, who is there to thank, other than our Creator? For this reason, gratitude also helps us tap into the realm of spirituality. Johannes A. Gaertner hinted at this when he wrote, "To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven." The reason we "touch Heaven" when we are grateful is that Heaven Itself is grateful. At least that is what is reported in the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad-Gita. For in it, it is written, "Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart -- a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water -- I accept with joy." For those of us who are spiritual and engage in prayer, let that prayer be, "Thou who has given so much to me, give one thing more: a grateful heart" (George Herbert).
I'll give the final word to Melody Beattie: "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."