Recently, I was looking for an opportunity to write something about gratitude. Being stuck in an airport and waiting for a flight that had been cancelled gave me the opportunity to interview people and ask them what they were most grateful for. So, I wandered around the gate area, introduced myself, and told people that I wanted to write an article about the Thanksgiving holiday, and I asked if I could ask them one question: “What are you most grateful for?” Everyone stopped to think and then answered. It was a great way to pass the three hours.
Here are the results of my interviews. More than 70% of the people said that they were thankful for family. Another 10% said that they were thankful for the opportunity to have a job or to learn and develop the skills to increase their earning power. Another 8% said they were thankful for their country and the freedoms that they enjoy. The remaining percentages were very small, but people mentioned their religion, health, friends, car, nature, music, food, and taste.
What was most amazing was the feeling that was created in the gate area by these conversations. When I finally boarded the plane and was seated, everyone who passed me while finding their seat called me by name and thanked me for speaking with them. This taught me an important lesson: We can cultivate an attitude of gratitude by what we think about or attend to.
So many people seem to focus on the negative rather than the positive. They let their thoughts dwell more on what they don’t have, rather than on what they do have. Then in the bitterness of their lack, they seem to feel justified in demanding what others have as a right, simply because they don’t have it. Such thinking leads people to complain, blame, criticize, and then unjustly condemn others. It also leads to acts of greed, violence, selfishness, overindulgence, cruelty, and crime.
What should you do?
In order to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, here a number of activities that you might do to be more grateful and to motivate you to change your perspective, your feelings, and your results.
1. Grasp the big picture. It is so easy to see only our immediate circumstances and where we are in the moment. Taking a moment to contemplate the vastness of our opportunities and all that is a possible is a great way to see beyond what we would normally see and to broaden our perspective.
2. Notice more. Taking some time to reflect on how you see the world and your place in it will give you the opportunity to see what you may not have noticed before. Unfortunately, we often don’t appreciate our blessings or opportunities until we no longer have them. Just taking time to notice what you have should improve your gratitude in the moment.
3. Acknowledge the sacrifice of others. There are many people who have contributed to your success in some way or another. Take a moment to identify the sacrifice of your mother, father, teachers, friends, ministers, spouse or companion, children, and even the servicemen and women who have provided you with safety; anyone who has provided opportunity, learning, wisdom, guidance, and support.
4. Do something for others. Try to notice how you might do something for someone that they can’t do for themselves. Sometimes we take for granted so many simple things that we can do that others can’t. Look for opportunities to lend assistance, particularly for the elderly, then do it. Traveling as often as I do, I often see people in the airport who could use a little extra help: elderly people, mothers traveling alone with small children, etc. Lending a helping hand allows others to feel valued and appreciated, and it helps you to feel grateful that you could do something for someone else.
5 Speak kind words. Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Take a moment to express your appreciation for others. Last night my 15 year-old son played exceptional basketball and was responsible for scoring the winning points of his basketball game. Obviously everyone celebrated his success after the game. But before he went to bed, he came and found me and in a quiet moment and asked, “Dad, did I play ok today?” He wanted to be acknowledged by me. I think we often take for granted the impact we can have on others by speaking kind words of appreciation and acknowledgement.
6. Reflect upon freedom. No matter where you live in the world, you enjoy a number of freedoms that may not be available or even allowed to others. Take a moment to identify and reflect upon the freedoms that you have. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t think, say, and do what you do currently. Reflecting on a world absent of your current freedoms will help you to appreciate what you may not have before.
7. Feel the feelings. I asked my young daughter what helps her to feel gratitude. After many hours she came to me and said, “When I see homeless people out in the cold, I realize how hard it is for them. Then I feel grateful and it makes me want to do something to help.” Her statement made realize again that our thoughts give rise to our feelings. And our feelings then move us to action. If you will spend some time to assess your blessings and opportunities, then the feelings will come, and hopefully you will be moved to more meaningful action.
8. Appreciate the “in.” It is often much easier to appreciate what we have or possess. What is more difficult to also appreciate are the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Adopting an attitude of gratitude for the situation you are in will facilitate an attitude of learning and help to develop a different perspective.
9. Acknowledge a higher power. No matter what you may believe in whether it be God, a Universal Spirit, or the power of positivity in the Universe, acknowledging a higher power with gratitude and thankfulness creates an increase of those things upon which you place your attention.
10. Write it down. Keeping a simple gratitude journal creates time for introspection and reflection, as well as provide something we can refer back to during difficult times. Taking the time to write down the things we are grateful for helps us to increase our awareness of what we have and fosters an attitude of gratitude.
There is much to be grateful for. Our gratitude can be traced to our deliberate efforts to expand our perspective and to reflect on that which you may normally take for granted. I hope that you will take some time before the end to the year to develop your gratitude and the feelings which result therefrom. Doing so will allow you to live at a higher level and experience the joy that so often is missing from our everyday lives.
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