Gratitude…it’s one of the words that we use over and over to express our appreciation for what we have in our lives whether it’s tangible or intangible. We are taught to have an “attitude of gratitude” as a way of good living. To be seen as not grateful is to be seen as selfish and greedy. Feeling gratitude makes us happy! It sends positive energy into the world. Who wouldn’t want to be in an “attitude of gratitude”?
But, what if gratitude was more than just an attitude? What if gratitude was just the beginning of a mindset of living gratefully? It’s one thing to express gratitude. It’s another to “live” gratitude.
What does living in gratitude mean? Well, to me, living in true gratitude is a constant mindset of being grateful and then showing through our actions that we are willing to nurture, protect and be stewards of that for which we are grateful. Gratitude means nothing if we express thanks one minute and then turn around and damage, hurt or ruin what we’ve been given. Being grateful means taking actions and changing behaviors to live the “promise of our thanks”
What does that look like? Well, ask yourself these questions.
If you are grateful for your friends and family, what actions do you take on a daily basis to not judge or criticize? Do you let bygones be bygones? Do you still have expectations about the way they “should” be?
If you are grateful for the air we breathe, then what do you do to make sure that it stays clean? Do you protest the forms of energy that pollute our air? Do you drive everywhere instead of taking public transit, walking or riding a bike when possible?
If you are grateful for your neighbors, do you still gossip about them?
If you are grateful for water, do you consciously take action to minimize water usage? Do you throw prescription medication down the toilet or use toxic detergents?
If you are grateful for healthy food, do you go out and protest GMOs or keep buying them?
If you are grateful for the “things” you have in your life, do you still live for that weekend shopping spree?
If you are grateful to be able to turn the lights on whenever you want or to watch TV, do you take measures to conserve energy or live in a home of an appropriate size for your family’s essential needs?
As I write this list, I have to wonder about how grateful I truly am. Yikes!
An attitude of gratitude is lovely to participate in, but living gratefully is a conscious, deliberate course of action. That can sometimes mean changing behaviors and taking actions that might not feel comfortable. Gratitude also encompasses feeling appreciative for the moments and events in our lives that aren’t so wonderful. This takes being able to zoom out and see a greater perspective. Not always an easy task in the moment, but possible upon reflection later.
The tragedies and challenges that happen in our lives give us the opportunity to practice resilience, engage our creativity, connect with each other and open our hearts to compassion toward one another. Losing a job, experiencing a major disaster or becoming ill might not look like something to be grateful for on the surface, but the lessons that are born from such events are, indeed, something to be grateful for. They can spur us to take action to reassess past decisions and participate in future choices that are more healthy and affirming for ourselves and others.
Tragedy and loss can also open us up to our own potential to serve others or take action to promote change that benefits our fellow mankind. Part of our purpose in being is to serve others both human and non human and with a heartbeat or not. To serve is gratitude expressed outward. I don’t know about you, but when I am of service whether it’s just giving a smile or holding a door, it makes me happy. That happiness is something for which I am grateful and it inspires me to keep taking actions as a result of that gratitude to continue to be of service.
Gratitude is more than an attitude. It’s a cyclical pattern of attitude and action. It's a way of daily living that includes being grateful for all sorts of things, whether positive or negative, and then finding ways of taking protective, nurturing and compassionate action to express how true that gratitude really is.