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?
I’m a word nerd, so I did some quick internet research on the origins of the word gratitude. The GNU Collaborative International Dictionary of English (GCIDE) entry includes a handful of definitions and suggests Latin or French origin. The second definition, “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 was the kind of gratitude I grew up with and was reinforced by 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 recategorize 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.
Living in gratitude takes practice. I still have bad days, as you likely do. 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 do something in service to someone or something when I get frustrated. It’s an instant mood lift for me when I’m doing something to awaken kindness in someone else.
I’ve given you two of my secrets about gratitude – redefine it when it starts to become work and reconnect to it after having 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 all year long!