The Power of Gratitude

Old typewriter with text gratitude
Old typewriter with text gratitude

gratitude / grat.i.tude / ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od /
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
(Oxford Dictionaries, © 2015 Oxford University Press)

Gratitude is a simple notion, yet one that we formally honor but once a year. But how does gratitude color our lives when we're not sitting around a table laden with turkey, stuffing and candied yams? When did you last pause to recognize and acknowledge the many things for which you are grateful?

Time speeds by at an alarming pace. On the treadmill of life, we can forget to take a breather and enumerate what we have been given that we've forgotten or taken for granted. We tend to focus on what we don't have, not on what we have. That leaves us wishing for what is not in our lives instead of valuing what is.

Months ago, after producing a successful event for a women's news organization, my boss gave me an unusual thank-you gift. As Charlie Brown would say, on Halloween night, "I got a rock." Mine was an ocean rock that a friend unearthed in Gloucester, MA, and chose for its smooth, solid, flat shape. The simplicity of the gift touched me. On the rock's surface, my boss hand-painted the word Joy in bright red. The sender's note accompanying the gift contained a simple sentiment: " ...You fill the room with joy, every room in which you enter. Joy is pure and true and the cleanest burning fuel. ..."

The stone evoked memories of another rock featured in "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." After trick-or-treating, the neighborhood kids compare their hauls. Charlie Brown examines his "bounty" and sighs, "I got a rock."

Charlie and I both received a rock. There, the similarities end. My rock is a constant reminder of my gratitude. How fortunate I was to have worked with this exceptional group of women on a transformative event. Catalyzing my own gratitude, the rock altered the trajectory of my "spiritual" journey. Initially, the rock occupied a small space on my desk. Now, it's my "gratitude rock;" I carry it wherever I go.

Whenever I touch the stone I give thanks for something good in my life at that moment. I consider how grateful I am for the wonderful relationships, experiences and joys in my life. The more appreciation I show, the more those gifts bloom.

I began to cultivate a daily practice of gratitude. I start, end and live each moment of the day in gratitude. I focus on the positive, not the negative. For instance, my to-do list has transformed from a burden to a blessing, symbolizing the people, projects and experiences with which I am involved.

I see my rock, think of all the good in my life, and thank the universe with a simple mantra: "I'm grateful."

It works!

By starting the first hour of my day with positive energy, I've set the next 24 in positive motion. Focusing on unhappiness blinds me to my opportunities for gladness and success. At the end of the day, I think about all the good things that I've received and choose one thing that's made me the happiest. It returns me to a place of appreciation, no matter what has happened during the day. Bathed in gratitude, I enjoy a more tranquil sleep.

My emotional circuitry is being favorably fine-tuned. Early on, I began to reap the positive benefits of daily gratitude, observing the world through a lens of thankfulness. Being grateful for what we already have creates waves of positive change within ourselves and around us. Gratitude directs us to a more fulfilled life. I'm mindful of little things and seek the positive within even what appear to be unpleasant situations.

Just recently, a setback turned into an opportunity. I was booked to manage an out-of-town event that was rescheduled after I had committed to another project. The conflict made it impossible to take on the first event, giving me some extra time on a day I wasn't even supposed to be in town.

Instead of mulling over the unfortunate turn of events, I took a walk around another neighborhood. As I strolled past a local college, a light bulb went off. When I returned home, I contacted schools to inquire about guest-lecturing positions. After promising conversations with practicing academicians in the events industry, I'm now awaiting confirmation. I was able to turn a potential disappointment into an inspiration.

The situation wasn't distressing; the problem was my perception of the circumstances. Yes, one opportunity was canceled, but another took its place. I now coach myself to dial down gloomy thoughts, remain thankful, and look for the "up" side. I asked myself:

  • How could the situation have benefited me?
  • Could I turn annoyance into appreciation for an opportunity?
  • Could I be thankful for anything within the situation?

As in meditation, changing one's attitude takes practice. Living in the here and now offers opportunities to see the entire picture, solve problems and not weave worst-case scenarios.

I've formulated a new checklist from my experiences:

  • Is gratitude transformative?
  • Does gratitude matter?
  • Does gratitude deliver as much to the sender as to the giver?

A growing body of data shows that people who cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience more energy, happiness and resilience. Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology, University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Miami, have conducted studies on gratitude, and found measurable psychological, physical and interpersonal health benefits for subjects practicing gratitude.

According to Emmons's and McCullough's research, gratitude not only improves health and happiness; it also increases our levels of well-being throughout our personal and social lives. For further material on the benefits of gratitude, take a look at Dr. Emmons's website in which he further explores the benefits of gratitude, and refers to numerous research initiatives on the subject.

We all have something for which we may be grateful, even in the bleakest of times. I've created a personal "Gratitude List." Here's a sampling:

  1. My family and friends whose love, encouragement and support inspire me and make me feel cherished. They "get" me and listen to me.
  2. Laughter, a baby's giggle, a child's belly laugh. And humor.
  3. The people in my life, the memory of those I've lost, and their different personalities.
  4. Work I love and continue to find fully nourishing.
  5. Smiles and hugs.
  6. The chance to make the people I love know that I love them.
  7. Deep breaths.
  8. Quality television -- and Shonda Rhimes for creating "TGIT" TV.
  9. Chocolate (all varieties). And mint chocolate chip ice cream, even though my fat cells are bursting to come out; and spoons for eating the ice cream.
  10. Second and third chances, and forgiveness.
  11. Stillness.
  12. My resilience; tough times and setbacks that have made me stronger, more appreciative and empathetic.
  13. The ability to embrace my flaws, weaknesses and failures; they continue to teach me.
  14. Compliments.
  15. Saying, speaking and doing whatever my heart desires.
  16. Handwriting anything.
  17. Being there for others in their time of need.
  18. Post-it notes.
  19. Eyes to see the neon glow of Times Square, and legs and feet to carry me to them.
  20. Every new day -- to move forward, make progress.

It's been said that gratitude is the shortest-lived emotion. Try to get in touch with your gratitude. Be thankful for every moment of your life and enjoy the experience on a different level. How different the world appears when we deliberately focus for one moment on things we've never noticed before.