I look forward to December. I enjoy wrapping up a year, and the festivities of the transition from one year to the next. I especially love the traditions that remind us of our relatedness to one another, and those that focus us on gratitude.
Cicero held that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu philosophers all speak of the importance of gratitude as a human virtue.
Gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. Gratitude is a state of mind-heart that has elements of wonder, appreciation, and thankfulness. We know that the ability to experience and express gratitude are essential for emotional health and well being. In fact, Maslow identified this ability as core to the success of “self-actualized” human beings. When we can experience and express gratitude we see wonder and find joy in even the most mundane things, and in the face of great hardship.
The other day, a former client referred me to another person with a positive note about me and the coaching I had provided him. I felt appreciation, “Thank YOU!” and a sense of wonder and awe that he had taken the time to remember me with kindness and then act on this feeling.
On my part, I feel grateful because I have gained something from the thoughtful action of another person. My beliefs about his intentions and the sacrifice or risk he may have made on my behalf are part of what creates my warm feeling of gratitude. There is no quid quo pro here. That is the spiritual nature of gratitude.
On Giving Gifts
I love to give. Giving makes me feel good. I love to think of people, to consider who they are, what they enjoy, what they dream about, and what they need. This act of empathy, filled with love and good will, makes me feel good. Gift giving for me affirms my connection to people – those I love, those I enjoy and those I don’t even know. Throughout the year, during my travels and when I am home, I see things that remind me of people I keep in mind and heart. When I can manage it, I try to buy or capture those images, things, and ideas and bring them home or send them to the person my mind.
All gifts are not material. A gift of your self can be moments of time, acts of consideration like the one my client gave to me, or taking the time to write a letter to someone who had a significant positive impact on you, someone you are grateful for. Social media sites such as Facebook enable my gift giving in the form of letting people know I am thinking of them as I send a note or a photograph.
On Receiving Gifts
Anyone who lives with children knows that selfless, benevolent, mindful gratitude, is not innate. Too often, well-meaning friends of mine have brought my children gifts when they come to visit. When the expectation of a gift amps up the emotions and then the gift is a disappointment, young children can be brutal. “I hate that!” or only slightly better, the child in question bursts into tears and runs upstairs. Researchers say that true gratitude emerges spontaneously sometime during the ages of 7-10.
There are still children inside each of us. So, here’s a tip: Even if you don’t like the gift, you will feel gratitude if you focus on the positive intention of the giver. That rush of gratitude is the gift, not the casserole dish you don’t need, that lame pair of gloves that aren’t your style, or the disappointingly mundane kitchen gadget. Practicing mindful-attention on the positive intention of the giver will complete the exchange and bring smiles to you both.
Gratitude Makes the World a Better Place
Adam Smith, the renowned political economist, wrote in 1790 that human behavior has a logic to it and that gratitude was an essential social emotion: “The sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to reward is gratitude,” Adams wrote.
Other theorists have explored the belief that receiving a gift triggers indebtedness and a feeling of reciprocity as a result. My client’s referral has left me in a positive state of “debt” to him. This desire to acknowledge his belief in me is the positive, resonant cycle. I want to ensure that his good word is honored by providing excellent service to the people he referred me to. In this way, we create a social network linked by the act of mutual gratitude and generosity. In my estimation, this is a far better kind of network than the traditional alternative, built out of self interest and negotiated material contracts.
I hope you will focus on the positive impact of gratitude in your life. Here are my gratitude-related gifts for you:
Take time in these next few days to record what you are grateful for. This act alone will lead to a positive mental outlook.
- Pay it forward by giving generously to others – both those you know and those you don’t know personally.
- Focus on the positive intentions of others as you receive acts of kindness and gifts of acknowledgment.
- Self manage your disappointed inner child.
- Weave a web of gratitude and gratefulness by expressing your appreciation out loud and to others besides the giver.