I’ve been considering gratitude a lot lately. I never used to think much about it, maybe because it was something I always took for granted and when we are a certain way we don’t give it much of a thought. I notice it now and appreciate expressions of gratitude whether it’s because of something I did or just noticing it. I really notice it when someone is lacking in gratitude. Don Draper, the main character in the hit series Mad Men could be the poster boy the absence of gratitude. He Is probably one of the luckiest men on Madison Ave. yet he never acknowledges his good fortune. Lack of gratitude can make your life much emptier and unhappy, never mind those around you.
Gratitude is one of what I call a keystone strength. When you are grateful a lot of other strengths come along for the ride. For instance, the ability to love and be loved would be more difficult if not impossible without gratitude. Perspective is a strength that is reinforced by using gratitude. You might be down on your luck with everything working against you but a bit of gratitude can show you that other people are worse off and in fact you could be doing much worse. Faith and spirituality are hollow without gratitude. Have you ever noticed that it’s uncommon to find someone who is both negative and grateful.
Gratitude is an optimistic and particularly social strength; used primarily in interaction with other people but we can also be grateful for things. For instance it is possible to be grateful for the beauty of the day or for flowers or for spiritual fulfillment. It is a strength that gives us perspective and appreciation for how lucky we are. Anyone who has been through or been close to someone who has gone through Alcoholics Anonymous understands how they use gratitude to build a future for themselves. Gratitude gives you so much to be grateful for. But it isn’t enough just to feel grateful, it is important that there is a corresponding articulation of it too. That is, it’s not enough to feel grateful, you have to express it too. Gratitude is a transcendent strength, something that connects you to something outside yourself that is larger.
If you can express gratitude, you are “luckier” because people will be drawn to you. I like helping people and I feel so much more engaged and appreciated when I feel gratitude come back to me for my actions. I feel like helping them more. How do you feel when you go out of your way to help someone and they don’t appreciate your efforts? You might feel a bit of resentment toward them. How likely are you to help that person again? I noticed that just now when I held the door open for a guy who was coming in behind me at Starbucks. He didn’t thank me, he didn’t acknowledge me in any way. Then scooted ahead of me in the line up for coffee. What, am I a sucker? I feel irritated to be treated as a non-entity but to have my kindness taken advantage of makes me feel resentful.
You don’t need to understand what gratitude is to notice when it is totally absent. When I experience a lack of gratitude, it’s like a social vacuum that sucks all that is good into it. This week, as an experiment, notice gratitude or lack of gratitude of it in those around you, then become see if you can become aware of your own. Remember, it’s not enough to experience the feeling of gratitude but it is the expression of your gratitude that is important for those on the receiving end. It’s all about impact and gratitude makes a huge impact.