In this post, I will address the emotion of gratitude.
There are two reasons for this..
- Next week, in the US, we will be celebrating the Holiday of Thanksgiving.
- While there are articles out there which address gratitude, you may not be all that familiar with this emotion.
For me growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday marked by eating too much good food. We knew of the Pilgrims and the origin story of the Holiday.
And, maybe, we even gave some verbal homage to what we might be thankful for.
We didn’t spend any time thinking about the emotion of gratitude.
But, then, in my family of origin, we didn’t spend much time talking about any emotions. That is another story.
With my kids, I would always ask them, during Thanksgiving, to mention something they were thankful for, which they did.
Probably just to humor me.
As I write this, the US is beginning to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Because we have safe and effective vaccines, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid are down and people are beginning to return to “normal” (however that is defined).
Yes, we are still dealing with folks who are avoiding the vaccines but that is another issue.
I am grateful that the vaccine is available.
I am grateful for a daughter-in-law who loves to FaceTime me so I can enjoy my two young grandchildren as they grow and develop and that I am healthy enough to interact with them when we get together.
Maybe you have reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving. I hope so.
With that in mind, here is an updated and expanded reprint of a 11/19 post.
Thanksgiving, as a Holiday, is supposed to commemorate a feast that took place between native Americans and the Pilgrims who landed in America.
Today, however, It is basically an enjoyable time off from work during which we get together with family, eat too much, and watch parades or football on TV.
In my house, as I’ve said, we attempted to emphasize the “giving thanks” part of the Holiday.
Most of us think of being “thankful” and being “grateful” as the same thing.
Well, while they are very similar, they are not the same.
Indeed, being “grateful” goes beyond being “thankful” and the emotion of “grateful”(gratitude) is both misunderstood and underutilized.
“What”, you say. “misunderstood and underutilized?”
Yes. On both counts.
First, let’s take a closer look at “thankful” vs “grateful”.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), “thankful”and “grateful”are the same with the exception of two significant words.
Thankful is defined as “conscious (emphasis added) of benefits received” while grateful is defined as “appreciative (emphasis added) of benefits received.”
Being “conscious” implies only an awareness while being “appreciative” implies an involvement with whatever it is that you are choosing to acknowledge and highlight.
Here is an example of the difference between these two.
You go into work and your colleague says to you, “Hey, there, how are you doing?” In most instances, you say (often automatically) “Fine.” or “Good, and you?”
This interaction reflects ONLY an acknowledgement, or awareness, of the other person.
Now, in contrast, you meet up with an old buddy from your past and he asks you, “How are you doing?” You most likely would begin to fill him in on what has happened to you since you last met.
This is involvement.
Imagine the surprised response you would get at work if you responded to “How are with you?” with an indepth explanation of your whole weekend, the argument you had with your spouse, and so forth. This would be an example of confusing involvement with acknowledgement.
Sure, you are very familiar with saying “Thank you” whenever appropriate and maybe even being “grateful” when someone does a favor for you. But, in most cases, the emotion just sort of happens and you don’t really think about it.
Someone holds a door open for you and you say “Thanks.” Sure, you appreciate the gesture but you aren’t really involved in the interaction.
And, in fact, why should you be involved?
This is a casual interaction in which someone has done something nice for you and you have acknowledged their actions.
That’s it. You go about your business and they about theirs.
But, think for a minute about being caught in a downpour and having someone specifically notice you and the packages you are trying to keep dry, run toward the door, and hold it open so that you can run to get out of the storm. In this case, you might be both thankful and grateful.
Holding the door is the same in both cases. Going out of one’s way to help you out, as in the second example, is a step beyond.
Unlike anger, anxiety, and sadness, gratitude, as an emotion, doesn’t get much attention. It is not problematic, is easily expressed, and often only becomes an issue when someone else, who we think should be grateful for something we’ve done for them, fails to express this emotion.
Hence, it is misunderstood.
Gratitude is most likely not expressed more because it just is not considered relevant. People don’t usually avoid feeling gratitude.
The Benefits of “Gratitude….”
Did you know that, based on research, there are numerous benefits that come to the person who is grateful.
According to an article posted on positivepsychology.com, gratitude can:
- help you make friends
- improve your physical health
- improve your psychological health
- enhance empathy and reduce aggression
- improve your sleep
- enhance your self-esteem
Look, I have not verified these studies and I am not saying that they are all true or that you will experience any of these benefits.
I am, however, suggesting that there is a real possibility that expressing gratitude or appreciation toward the good things that people do for you or the good things that either are bestowed upon you or that you have benefitted from could be in your best interest. And, at the very least, will not harm you any way.
So, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.
So, how do you begin to do this?
To me, something you can do right now is to begin to be more mindful of the good things that you have experienced and your interactions with others.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to and being aware of what is happening to you in the moment. Being mindless is to react to what is going on out of habit.
In other words, take yourself off of “auto-pilot” in how you view your world and your relationships with others. Then, attempt to consciously think these events (such as others, or you, surviving Covid), how others interact with you and how you want to respond to them.
Let me give you an example of being on “auto-pilot”. And, I am not suggesting that you eliminate “auto-pilot” because, when appropriate, being on “auto-pilot” enables you to multitask.
When you shower in the morning and go through your hair-washing routine, have you ever found yourself wondering if you used the conditioner? You did, of course, but it is as if you weren’t even there. And, the interesting part is that on the level of consciousness, you weren’t there because you were thinking of something else.
The same thing happens when you can’t “remember” where you put your car keys. Memory isn’t the issue, you were thinking about something else (You weren’t mindful) when you tossed your keys down. So, the location never made it into memory in the first place and wasn’t available to you when you tried to access it.
So, regarding gratitude, stay in the moment.
When someone does something nice for you, consciously thank them and think about appreciating their interactions with you.
When you experience a “grand moment”, express your gratitude (to yourself) that you are alive to enjoy the beautiful sunset, or that your loved ones have survived Covid, or that you were in the right place at the right time to see your grandchild walk for the first time.
It will take some time to begin expressing gratitude as an ongoing part of your life and your interactions with others.
But, stay with it and it will happen.
If you are in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.
If you are not in the US, Happy Thanks-giving.