Attitude of gratitude 

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kindness that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” — Albert Schweitzer

I’ve recently become hyper awareScreen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.45.51 PMof the word ‘thank you’ and how infrequently it’s said. It seems to me that we have so much to be thankful for, from receiving compliments and gifts to having someone go above and beyond with favors and thoughtful gestures.

I think gratitude is as much an action and verbal acknowledgment as it is an attitude, or aura of being. I was raised to say thank you and to write thank you notes for everything. My family didn’t take for granted generous and small gestures, and my brother and I were reminded to thank everyone for everything. Back then, it felt somewhat annoying, but now I so appreciate that my parents and grandparents celebrated gratitude.

For me, when I say thank you, I automatically feel closer to the kindness of the giver. And I want the giver to know how appreciative I am.

Saying thank you is an excellent reminder of sincerity. I recently did a favor for a friend and drove her to a doctor’s appointment. She generously gave me a book to thank me for my offer. It meant so much that she considered my efforts. For me, the best thank you is one that comes from the heart and is said with full eye contact. When I receive a thank you that feels forced or even obligatory, it leaves me feeling empty.

Big surprise, kindness and gratitude go hand in hand. UMass Dartmouth reports that

  • People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives. 
  • Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. 
  • People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person. 
  • Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.

These are some very simple ways to increase your experience and expression of gratitude. As Albert Schweitzer notes in his above quotation about gratitude, increasing our conscious awareness of gratitude may require that we train ourselves to think differently. This can be done by incorporating some simple exercises into our lives.

Graciousness is such an attractive quality in people. I’m always drawn to people who are humble and appreciative, rather than those who have a sense of entitlement or an attitude of expectation. Gratitude and thankfulness go so far in my book.

Yesterday a client and I took a walk during our session. He was amazed to notice how his sadness and overall blue attitude changed by expressing gratitude for the natural beauty of the neighborhood. He wrote an email to me after session commenting that simply walking with his eyes looking at the horizon made him see the world differently than when he walks with his eyes cast down.  He expressed thanks to me for reminding him that this small shift could change his day.  I felt touched to receive this message, and even happier that this suggestion had such an impact on his day.  

To you, I offer my thanks and a sincere appreciation for reading this today.

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Why I’m doing this

I recently experienced a setback in my professional life, which has left me in a tailspin.  It’s been an island of shame and questioning of whether I chose the best career path, if I’m truly capable, and if I am “smart enough.”  In this Facebook era of humblebrags and boastful moments where people post about their minute victories (“I’ve been ridiculously productive all day!”) to their true accomplishments (“I want to thank my team for getting us to Regionals…”), it’s hard to express anything but triumphs.  Goal-setting (yes, I do it, too), positivity groups, internet memes and quotes advocating “Never. Lose. Hope.” tend to feel like Tony Robbins stepped into my personal world uninvited and leaves no space for an alternative experience or opinion.  I feel like Negative Nancy even suggesting staying with the feeling of sadness and grieving my loss, rather than “looking on the bright side.”  As someone who is generally and genuinely optimistic, even this is too much for me.  This island is lonely and yet, I can’t be the only one who feels uncomfortable with the advice to “keep my chin up no matter what” or other benign platitudes that don’t speak to specific events.

I’m starting this blog to overcome my setback in an authentic way that acknowledges feelings of defeat, failure, loneliness, shame, sadness, grief, and anger.  I’ll be interviewing people who have experienced defeat and failure and who are on the rise.  I don’t know what will come from this, but hoping to gain insight to my own process and learn from other people about how they felt and during these seemingly impossible times.   Some friends have suggested that my failure was really for the highest good for me and all others concerned.  At this moment, I don’t feel that way… but then when I look at case studies of successful people who faltered and eventually got up again, I wonder if that could be me, too.

I’ll be interviewing real people about their real experiences with setbacks, defeats, and failures.