Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity

for taking things for granted.

- Aldous Huxley

When was the last time you had even a single thought about gratitude?

Dale Carnegie once wrote, “One of the tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon, instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” I’ve always been thankful for the gift of watching sunrises and sunsets. Yet so few people take advantage of this. The sunrise and sunset don’t care if we watch them or not; they will keep on being beautiful even if no one bothers to look at them. If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently. When you look into infinity, you realize there are more important things than what people do all day. We take so much for granted.

Scottish Minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers and sermons from the pulpit. He gained a reputation for always finding something to be grateful for, a silver lining so to speak.

One Sunday morning, the weather was damp, rainy, and gloomy. One less-than-positive member of the congregation thought to themselves, “Certainly Reverend Whyte can’t think of anything for which to be grateful for on a crummy day like this.” Much to their surprise, however, Whyte began his service by praying, “Thank you God, for each brand-new day - and that they are not always like this.”

Gratitude defined: an expression of appreciation and the quality of being thankful.

I opened two gifts this morning. They were my eyes. I woke up. I have clothes to wear. I have running water. I have food to eat. Perhaps we should all be saying ‘thank you’ when we wake up in the morning. Everything you have - skin, eyes, ears, taste buds and fingernails - are all part of life’s gifts. That breath you just took…that’s a gift.

In my research, I came across an article by Chelsea Lee Smith entitled: “I am grateful for…” Here are a few things she noted:

  • I am grateful for early wakeups, that equals children to love.

  • I am grateful for laundry, that equals clothes to wear.

  • I am grateful for a house to clean, that equals having a safe place to live.

  • I am thankful for toilets to clean, that equals indoor plumbing.

What are you grateful for? Are we often taking too much for granted?

Susan Jeffers in her book, Embracing Uncertainty, shares this story. “I was once told that certain Spiritual Masters in Tibet used to set their teacups down before they went to bed each night as a reminder that life was impermanent. And then, when they awoke each morning, they turned their teacups right side up again with the happy thought, “I’m still here.” This simple gesture was a wonderful reminder to celebrate every moment of the day.”

It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to appreciate presence.

Let me share with you a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and saw that she had only 3 hairs on her head. “Great,” she said. “I think I’ll braid my hair today.” So, she did, and had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. “Hmm,” she said, “I guess I’ll part my hair down the middle.” So, she did, and had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, and looked in the mirror and saw that she had only one hair left on her head. “Wow,” she said, “Today I get to wear my hair in a pony-tail.” So, she did, and had a wonderful day.

The next day, she woke up looked in the mirror and saw that there wasn’t a single hair on her head. “Thank God!” she exclaimed. “I was running out of things to do with my hair.”

As I said, this was a fairy tale, but in reality, how many hours do people spend complaining about their hair or their bad hair days?

In his article, 10 Powerful Life Lessons from the Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes: “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises. Gratitude is the practice of finding the good in every day. Life can easily become stagnant, mundane, and monotonous, but that changes depending on what we choose to see.”

Be a seeker of everyday magic.

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. Life is so ironic. It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to appreciate presence. Do we ever really appreciate presence?

Jason Lehman wrote:

It was Spring, but it was Summer I wanted,

The warm days, and the great outdoors.

It was Summer, but it was Fall I wanted,

The colourful leaves, and the cool, dry air.

It was Spring, but the Winter I wanted,

the beautiful snow, and the joy of the holiday season.

I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted,

The freedom, and the respect.

I was twenty, but it was thirty I wanted,

to be mature, and sophisticated.

I was middle-aged, but it was thirty I wanted,

the youth, and the free spirit.

I was retired, but it was middle age I wanted,

The presence of mind, without limitations.

My life was over,

but I never got what I wanted.

Arthur Rubinstein says: “I’m passionately involved in life. I love its change, its colour, its movement. To be alive, to be able to see, to have houses, music, paintings. It’s all a miracle.” Albert Einstein adds: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Jon Bon Jovi adds: “Miracles happen every day, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.” Be a seeker of everyday magic.

Hal Urban writes: “My goal in teaching about thankfulness as an attitude and as a habit is to help people develop a greater awareness and appreciation of what they have. At the same time, I’m always curious to learn what they’re most thankful for after thinking about all of this and doing the exercise. At the end of the unit, I ask them to list their ‘Top 5.’ There’s strong agreement among both the high school kids and the adults whom I teach in college. While other things appear on some of the lists, these are the consensus choices:

  1. Special people.

  2. Freedom of choice.

  3. Boundless opportunity.

  4. Education and learning.

  5. General abundance and quality of life.

You may find this a real stretch, but personally, in addition to those listed above, I am thankful for all those difficult people I have experienced in my life. There have been numerous lessons learned from them and in some cases, they have role-modelled exactly who I do not want to be.

Joni Mitchell sings in her song, Big Yellow Taxi, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” This includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow. When you’re young, it seems your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. Nothing in your life is guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those that you love. How often do we forget to give thanks for all that we do have, rather than lamenting that which we do not have? This is a hard lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all. Life can change is an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it. Isn’t it scary knowing that any time could be the last time you talk to someone? In the blink of an eye, it can all be taken away.

Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

How often do we worry about minor annoyances that upset our plans? How often do we forget to give thanks for all that we do have, rather than dwelling on what we do not have? In other words, how often do we lose perspective? Richard Gere writes: “When I went undercover in New York City as a homeless man, no one noticed me. I felt what it was like to be a homeless man. People would just pass by me and look at me in disgrace. Only one lady was kind enough to give me some food. It was an experience I’ll never forget. So many times, we forget how blessed we are. We should not take that for granted. And if we can help someone in need, we should.”

It’s not enough just being thankful, it’s also about how we travel through life with others. Wilfred Grenfell wrote: “The service we render others is the rent we pay for our room on earth.” Denzel Washington adds: “At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished; it’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” As you companion others on their life journeys, please be an encourager; there’s already way too many critics in this world.

Her little girl was late arriving home from school so the mother began to scold her daughter, but stopped and asked, “Why are you so late?”

“I had to help another girl. She was in trouble,” replied the daughter.

“What did you do to help her?”

“Oh, I sat down and helped her cry.”

A lady worked as janitor in a company for many years. Now, being a janitor can be a pretty thankless job, which many of us might look down on. It happened the company changed ownership. Within a few days, the new owner wrote a personal thank you to every employee in the company. He asked his assistant go around and hand them out. When this lady received and opened her card, she burst into tears. She asked if she could be excused from work. Thinking she was sick, she was allowed leave for the rest of the day.

What the story was, they found out a few days later, she had never received even a verbal thank you from the previous owners and management, much less a personal card. And, she had worked there for over 25 years. So, she was really touched when the new owner sent her a card of appreciation. And, she had been thinking the change of ownership was probably a good time to quit. And, she was planning to let them know that very day. Which she didn’t. Because the little time, the little extra effort of the owner to send a little thank you card, helped the lady change her mind. Albert Einstein once wrote: “I speak to everyone in the same way whether he is the garbage man or the president.” Too often we underestimate the power of a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

There will always be someone out there that needs what you have to give.

According to legend, a young man while roaming the desert, came across a spring of delicious crystal-clear water. The water was so sweet he filled his leather canteen so he could bring some back to the tribal elder who had been his teacher.

After a four-day journey, he presented the water to the old man who took a deep drink and smiled warmly and thanked his student lavishly for the sweet water. The young man returned to his village with a happy heart.

Later, the teacher let another student taste the water. He spat it out, saying it was awful. It apparently had become stale because of the old leather container.

The student challenged his teacher: “Master, the water was foul. Why did you pretend to like it?”

The teacher replied, “You only tasted the the water, I tasted the gift. The water was simply the container for an act of of loving kindness and nothing could be sweeter!”

Let me introduce you to John Kralick. He was living in Los Angeles. Down on his luck, he was miserable, broke, overweight, and on his second divorce. He was an attorney and could not afford to pay his employees their Christmas bonuses because his clients were not paying their bills on time and sometimes not paying them at all.

The premise is that John had an epiphany while he was hiking in the hills of Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. He decided that his goal was to write one thank you note each day for the next year, for a total of 365 thank you notes. He wanted to find a reason to be thankful and grateful every single day. Incredibly enough, there were things right under his nose to be thankful for he hadn’t noticed.

John said that hand writing the thank you notes over the course of the year taught him to value the good things and created a discipline of positive focus. Receiving a hand written thank you note delivers a special meaning. Expressing gratitude will give you positive emotions, but the purpose of writing the notes is because it’s the right thing to do. John sums up saying our natural tendency is to notice the bad things that happened to us each day, but what would happen if we focused on one good thing?

Maya Angelou writes: “I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Never think that what you have to offer is insignificant. There will always be someone out there that needs what you have to give. If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.

Let’s close this lesson with a wonderful story:

A little girl was near death, victim of a disease from which her younger brother had miraculously recovered two years before. Her only chance to live was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the sickness. The doctor explained the situation to Tommy, her five-year-old brother, and asked if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister, Kathy.

The boy took a deep breath, thought for a moment, then drew himself up and said, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save my sister.”

As the transfusion progressed, one could see the vitality returning to the little girl. Tommy smiled when he observed this, but then, with trembling lips, he said something startling.

“Will I begin to die right away?” he asked.

The doctor realized immediately what Tommy’s hesitation had meant earlier. In giving blood to his sister, he thought he was giving up his life! In one brief moment he had displayed more courage than most of us can muster in a lifetime.

Food for Thought

What are you doing for others?

What small act of kindness were you once shown that you will never forget?

Choose one day each week and try to be grateful for everything.

Reverse bucket list: A reverse bucket list is where you sit and write down some things you have already accomplished in your life. This exercise requires reflection and gratitude. Are you thankful for all the adventures and challenges you have experienced?

Each week, choose at least one person whom you’d like to thank. Send this person a hand written letter outlining how he or she helped you. No e-mail or texting in this exercise. Letters must be hand written and mailed.

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.

- Martin Luther King Jr.

At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.

- Patch Adams.

Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.

- Robert Braathe

The more we help others, the more we help ourselves.

- Muhammed Ali

This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.

- Maya Angelou

Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

- Dr. Seuss

Great opportunities to help each other seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.

- Sally Koch

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

- Winston Churchill

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

- Henry David Thoreau

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life is an opportunity to contribute love in your own way.

- Bernie Siegel

Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us. It’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children.

- Joyce Brothers

We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on our picnics.

- Bill Vaughan

I’ve had a remarkable life. I seem to be in such good places at the right time. You know, if you were to ask me to sum up my life in one word, gratitude.

- Carole King

We’re all just walking each other home.

- Ram Dass

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

- Booker T. Washington

My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try and make a difference.

- President Jimmy Carter

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

- Mark Twain

If all you did was just look for things to appreciate you would live a joyous spectacular life.

- Abraham Hicks

We never know the worth of water till the well runs dry.

- English Proverb

Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

- Ray Bradbury

Next Lesson: We Are All Subject to Universal Laws

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