Gratitude: We're Sick of Hearing About it And We Need it.
Did you sigh a little bit just seeing the word “gratitude” in the title? You’re not alone.
Anyone using the internet or social media is bombarded with articles, quotes and how-to-guides on gratitude and its potential impact on your life. In fact, when you Google search “benefits of gratitude” over 75 million articles come up. So has everyone jumped on a trendy bandwagon or is there really something to this gratitude thing?
What does gratitude even mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” We’re going to start on the first part, “Being Thankful”, but read to the end because the key to why we roll our eyes is in the second part “Return Kindness.”
I haven’t been able to find a religion or spiritual practice that doesn’t recommend or require that you practice thankfulness. There are writings on being thankful for what you have, for what you’ve been given, that you’re even alive and everything in between. Archaeologists put the first religious behavior at 100,000 years B.C.E. linked to this grave site in the Middle East, so even before modern anatomically humans existed, our ancestors have been actively thankful.
I think the link between gratitude and early human life is obvious. It’s the same link today. Life is hard. Even in the most advanced parts of our modern world, let’s pick Denmark as an example, life still has no guarantees. Often the shining star of quality of life, in Denmark there are still around 52,000 deaths and there are over 44,000 people living in poverty per year. Being human means you can’t escape death and most of us can’t escape having to figure out a way to eat and where to live. So it’s natural to appreciate that you have life, food or shelter. Even animals can show gratitude and often more easily and freely than humans.
Gratitude is intrinsically linked to appreciation for how your life could be worse and there are unfortunately lots of examples for in the world. This appreciation is possible due to comparison of our life to others who are worse off, but we’re also capable of comparing our lives to those we think have it better and that can be really self destructive. So, you can think of being thankful as your personal compass on the comparison scale. Having balanced awareness to where your life stands allows to appreciate everything you have as well as create drive for what you’d like to add to your life.
The easiest way to be thankful is to say “Thank you.” There are personal benefits to saying thank you and there are community benefits, too. Here’s the deal, nobody owes us anything and our animalistic competitive side should logically never do anything that isn’t selfish. So any time anyone does even the slightest selfless thing like say “Bless you” or hold a door, appreciate the gesture of valuing other humans and say “Thank you.” Think of it as a simpler way of saying “thank you for not trying to kill me so that we don’t have to compete for resources and instead actually be wishing me well or helping me out.”
The second best way to be thankful is to keep a list of what you’re thankful for. Call it your Book of Blessings or your Gratitude Journal. Write them in a book or on a shopping list. The how isn’t important. The value is in thinking about, writing down and seeing what you appreciate in your own life. Give that thing your thankful for a moment. Let it come out from being unrecognized and unappreciated and give it it’s moment in the sun. Better yet, allow yourself to be present to it often by referring back to you every expanding list.
Now, let’s talk about the second half of the gratitude definition, “return kindness”. This is part that most people skip which is why so many of us roll our eyes when the topic comes up and it might be the most important part. In fact it’s what separates thankfulness from gratitude.
We have 75 million articles about gratitude and 171 million search results for thankfulness, but only 28 million results for “return kindness.” It’s one thing to be aware of all your blessings and everything you’re thankful for. It’s another thing entirely to want to be a blessing for someone or something else.
Going back to the origins of religion & spiritual practices, the single red thread or purpose of them ALL is to unite humanity in caring about each other, animals, and the planet - i.e. being kind. The mission of Powerful Ladies is to be powerful yourself so that you can be kind and pay it forward to others. Religions, Powerful Ladies, the definition of gratitude and the airline oxygen mask safety procedure all stand on the foundation that you need to be self-aware aka thankful aka know your power aka know what makes your life work so that you can be a blessing for others.
Does that mean your not a blessing or able to be kind if you don’t know what you’re thankful for? I’m going to maybe surprise you and say yes. Don’t freak out. You’re more thankful than you realize and are so without thinking about it. Here’s my logic. Babies are regularly called a blessing. Do babies know they’re thankful for their mothers? Cognitively, probably not. Instinctually, yes. So while there are lots of things that we’re instinctually thankful for, it is important to cognitively recognize them as well. I would argue a direct link between the degree of our awareness to what we’re thankful for to the degree to which we can cause miracles for others.
I’m even going to go farther and say, the way to know you’re truly thankful can be measured in how much much time you spend giving blessings to others. How I know you are powerful right now wherever you in time, space, or your life plan, is that you can create miracles for others right now. Kindness, blessing, miracles they’re all the same things and they’re smaller and easier to cause than you think.
The easiest kindness you can give someone right now is to acknowledge them by giving them eye contact and a smile. One level up, ask someone how they’re doing and actually listen. What more ways to spread kindness? See our 50 Ways to Claim your Power and Be a Blessing Today post.
My recommendation, take the recurring advice the 72 million articles of about gratitude and take time each day to be thankful. Keep a journal of what your thankful for each day. Please just remember to also take time each day to return kindness and share your gratitude with another.