Gratitude infused the love I felt as I looked around the full Sunday morning brunch table. I’ve been thinking lately about the value of gratitude in the personal, daily experience of life and about its meaning in human history.
So, when both eating and talking had slowed a little, I turned the discussion at the table to the subject of gratitude. Asking not only what people were grateful for but also what meaning they assigned to gratitude.
Our three-year-old cousin, the youngest at the table, happily said “penguin” and held out the adorable stuffed penguin which is her constant companion.
Her 11-year-old sister thought and then said, “‘I know I’m able to do cool things other kids can’t. I go to a great school. I have understanding and kind people always around me. I can go swimming. I go to swim practice every day and that makes me part of a community where I am welcome.”
Our 10-year-old cousin said, “I’m grateful for nature. Gratitude is being happy about something. I’m happy for the things people do for me and I happy to be able to move, to do sports, to run and to play the piano.”
Their Nana, at 73 the oldest person at the table said, “I’m grateful to have had such wonderful parents who only wanted me to be happy and were generous to me all their lives.”
Gratitude became the subject of general conversation and ideas came from everyone, of all ages, bouncing back and forth across the table, starting with “I’m grateful for the Big Bang.”
“On a daily basis, gratitude is a constant recognition of acts of kindness and generosity. Recognizing what others do for you.
“It feels like being grateful is a luxury. If you don’t have food you only have one problem and gratitude is a luxury. If you have food than you have the possibility of having many problems.
“Imagine the gratefulness our great grandmother must have felt to come to America and live the life she had. Sometimes it takes a change in circumstances.”
“I remember being a teenager and coming back from my NOLS (outdoor education) trip in Utah. I turned on the faucet and warm water came out.” That comment got the laughter of recognition. One of other cousins, in her 40’s, added ‘like standing in the shower with hot water pouring over you. It feels like a miracle.’
“It’s like you have to lose something to really understand gratitude.
“Little things can mean everything. What you do with gratitude – is it a feeling or a practice or both? Is the practice of gratitude graciousness?
“If you’re doing something and people are not recognizing it that can be annoying. So don’t do it for recognition but because it is the right thing to do. Yes, and just feel sorry for the person who can’t feel gratitude.
“It’s a shift in perspective that makes you creative. It’s a consciousness to remember to be grateful when you’re rushing through and doing the normal busy-ness of life and then you realize how wonderful it is to be in this big web of a family. It’s a rush and makes me feel great and it makes me treasure people.”
Where does gratitude come from? Why do some people feel it and others not? Why do some people feel it more than others?
Christmas gives us a special opportunity to think about gratitude. Christmas is now a commercial holiday and, as such, is as much about giving and getting material objects as it is a religious celebration. Holidays can be times of joy and fun and they can be times of complicated emotions and relationships.
Don’t get me wrong here. I love parties and celebrations. I love presents. I love getting them and I love giving them. I love the anticipation – especially when I think I’m going to make someone happy. I’m also very aware that parties and present giving can be emotionally loaded and sometimes cause unhappiness or feelings of debt and obligation.
Before there was a Christmas gratitude was already the subject of philosophers and writers. Cicero, (b. 106 BCE) the Roman philosopher, orator and theorist said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Not to be discounted is Piglet, of Winnie the Pooh, who “noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
Gratitude is at the core of an honorable life and to live without it leaves an emptiness. It is an outward expression of empathy. Gratitude is a gift we give and a gift we receive.
Thinking about gratitude together is the gift I hope to share with you this holiday season.
With all best holiday and New Year wishes and with gratitude.