Last week my daughter came to me and asked, “Daddy, which is greater, love or gratitude?” I was initially shocked at the depth of her question. After thinking for a moment, I responded with, “Well I think probably love is greater.” She responded by stating, “Oh no, Dad. You can’t love something that you are not grateful for.” End of discussion. Since this interaction, I have spent some time contemplating gratitude and whether love leads to gratitude or if gratitude is the foundation of love. The whole exercise has made me think about what leads to our gratitude for the life we lead and those in it.
Given that this weekend marks the celebration of the Thanksgiving Holiday in the U.S., it is a good time to consider the following questions to evaluate and amplify your sense of gratitude.
1. Do you consider what you could lose? Often we don’t appreciate what we have until we have lost it. Rather waiting until what we have is no more, you might consider what you have and imagine what your life would be like if you no longer had those things you cherished and enjoy. Doing so will add an increased measure of gratitude for those things that typically go unnoticed daily.
2. Do you consider your opportunities? We might feel more grateful if we took the time to contemplate the opportunities we have. If we stopped to identify our opportunities, perhaps we would be more inclined to take advantage of what we might have missed in the past. A heightened awareness of what is possible might serve as the motivator to engage in something that is personally worthwhile.
3. Do you observe to thank? There are many opportunities to thank others for all that they do and the value that they contribute at home or at work. In order to verbally recognize or acknowledge someone’s efforts, you must take time to see and notice what they do. Pay attention to individual behavior and the positive consequences of that behavior–then say something. Verbalizing your appreciation will make all the difference to those with whom you interact.
4. Do you look to fill the needs of others? The answer to this question requires that you get outside yourself and notice how you might help another. Rendering acts of service for those who might not be able to do something for themselves elevates others while also elevating yourself. Being of service to others has an interesting way of teaching you something about yourself and your own circumstances and opportunities. As Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
5. Do you spend time alone in nature? There is something about being in nature that quiets the mind and helps us to refocus on those things that matter most. When we are caught up the frantic pace of our own lives, we often miss the solemn beauties in the natural world that have the power to lift us out of the mundane and open our minds and hearts to our possibilities. Taking a quiet walk or watching the night sky has a way of fostering gratitude for all that encompasses our life’s experience.
6. Are you engaged in a good cause? Not just any cause, but a good cause. Something that will make a positive difference in the world. Such a cause should lead to positive change in yourself and others. Spending time doing something worthwhile is not only a great way to get outside yourself but also increases a sense of appreciation in others.
7. Is your personal purpose inclusive of others? One thing you might do is to identify where you spend your time. If none of your time is spent in a way that provides you the opportunity to lift the lives of others, then perhaps your life’s purpose should be reexamined. Someone once said that the only thing that we take with us when we leave this frail existence is our knowledge and the quality of our relationships. Personal success is usually achieved through association with others.
8. Do you have an attitude of gratitude? When things are not going as you had hoped they would, adopting a positive attitude is hard to do. But even when we are challenged, those challenges are opportunities to grow and develop. Everything appears as we perceive it to be. This forces us to celebrate what we have rather than to grieve over what we don’t. Developing a positive attitude requires you to assess your circumstances and make adjustments to the way you see your world and react to it.
9. Do you believe that you have enough? If we always focus on what we lack, then we don’t realize what we have. One of my sons had the opportunity to go to Africa for a few weeks to build a school. When he returned, he told us stories of some wonderful families that live in huts with dirt floors and tin roofs. He shared that by comparison he realized that he lived in a palace to what others had. He had a great experience helping to serve those who had less than he did and returned much more grateful for his life.
Taking the time to give thanks and celebrate gratitude for all that we have is an important exercise that requires personal awareness and action. The opportunity to uplift others, elevate the quality of our lives, and increase our happiness is well worth the effort.