There’s no shortage of social media posts about gratitude – it’s that time of year. Gratitude comes easy in November, but what about February or August – how do you sustain it all year long?
What is gratitude?
I’m a word nerd, so I did some internet research on the meaning of gratitude. The GNU Collaborative International Dictionary of English (GCIDE) entry for gratitude includes a handful of definitions. The second entry, “warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor” is what I think of this time of year. It conveys a sense of awe for the force or deity that works on our behalf.
That definition of gratitude is what I learned as a kid. It was reinforced by my parents who told me it was important to be grateful in all things. That was a heavy burden for a young child. Maybe it would have felt less burdensome if I’d learned to categorize it in my mind as the third definition from GCIDE: “kindness awakened by a favor received.” (Reference)
It’s much like the distinction I make between happiness and contentment. Happiness is something I initiate, but contentment comes from simply being present to the people and experiences that make my life full. Thinking about it in similar terms, gratitude is something I initiate, but kindness awakens in response to something I’ve received.
Gratitude can help heal
The world isn’t always conducive to gratitude. Sometimes, I encounter people who behave badly and I, sometimes, behave badly in response. Then I find myself feeling far less than grateful. I used to let those bad experiences define my day, but I’ve learned to manage them differently.
If I find myself in a funk, I take a break and go in search of something I can do for someone else. Whether it’s buying lunch for a friend, picking up litter in the neighborhood, or writing a recommendation for a former co-worker on LinkedIn, making a contribution redirects negative energy toward something beneficial.
These are my tips for living in gratitude – redefine it when it becomes burdensome and reconnect to it after a bad experience. But there’s one more thing you can do to allow more space in your life for being grateful, and that’s to practice forgiveness.
Nothing gets in the way of gratitude like resentment. When you start to notice it creeping into your head, pay attention. You may need to forgive yourself or someone else in order to experience full-on gratitude. It might even make your Thanksgiving Day meal more pleasant.
So, please join me in redefining gratitude this November. Let kindness be awakened in you by virtue of a favor you received. And let kindness sustain you in gratitude all year long!