I’ve probably heard the words thankful and grateful a hundred times over the past few days alone, but I’m wondering if we all think of them the same way. My dictionary defines Gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for or to return kindness.” But that strikes me as remarkably narrow.
When I was young, grateful was a word I used often and almost as a form of punctuation. “Thank you for dropping off the groceries…I’m so grateful.” “Thank you for picking up the kids at school…I’m so grateful.” “Thank you for helping me set the table for Christmas dinner…I’m so grateful.”
But as the years have passed and I’ve done more living – living through unexpected deaths, unexpected births, debilitating injuries, amazing vacations, mind-blowing terror attacks and life-shattering wars – I’ve learned something important about being grateful: It’s not a word to be used lightly or solely when something good happens.
Gratitude is a word for every moment of your life. For the day you’re hired and the day you’re fired. When you fall in love and when you find yourself alone. When you welcome a new puppy into your home and when you sit bedside with a dear friend who is leaving this world.
One of the most valuable, life-changing lessons I’ve learned is to simply pause, take a breath and say “thank you” as many times a day as possible – to myself and to others I encounter. I say “thank you” when I’m leaving for an important meeting and my car keys are right where they’re supposed to be. I say “thank you” when a driver waves me on to go ahead them. I say “thank you” when a deal is going in the wrong direction, because I know I’m about to learn another lesson about my profession.
Readiness to show appreciation is so much easier when the world is spinning in your direction. But we all know life’s best lessons are learned from the worst times; times that teach you about your inner strength and allow you to see the genius in your soul. Grief not only helps you develop greater compassion for others but teaches you the importance of patience. Grieving takes industrial-strength patience to get to the other side, and these emotions all teach you the real meaning of gratitude.
The best times in your life provide amazing memories: Walks on a tropical beach, hitting a hole in one, spending holidays with family and – for those of us with mad shopping skills – finding that perfect pair of shoes at half price. These are the obvious times to be grateful, the times that feel a little like winning life’s lottery, but they rarely provide the kind of perspective life’s tough lessons can.
There are hundreds of books that can help you become more grateful, all written by incredible authors who have much more to share on the subject than I could. But here is what I’ve learned and what I recommend you try as you begin your journey to a life of real gratitude:
Wake up every morning and make sure the first thing you say to yourself is “Thank you.” That’s it. Thank you. Out loud or in your head. You’ll be awed by how this simple phrase can change your overall attitude and, perhaps, your whole life.