By Cecile S. Holmes
A wise 13th century mystic made a salient point when he wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.”
And, frankly, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in a praying frame of mind. Simply acknowledging the good things in your life, openly, honestly, and maybe even aloud, makes a difference.
For instance, try being thankful for having a good boss or hardworking co-workers. Consider the pluses of the job that helps you pay your bills and live a decent life. Determine what aspects of your work bring you satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Be grateful for those things. Many people worldwide toil at jobs that pay little, provide little (if any) satisfaction, and offer almost no reward for a job well done.
Far too often any inclination we might feel to gratefulness is overruled by our impatience and imperviousness to the goodness in our lives. Oprah spoke about it on her TV show. O, her magazine, has devoted page-after-page to the benefits of it. A judge in California even wrote a book about it.
Quite frankly, I know what I’m writing about. I teach journalism at a state university and continue to write freelance about subjects that interest me. I take great satisfaction from my teaching, especially cherishing that “ah-ha” moment when a student grasps a difficult concept and another student’s pleasure at positive feedback on a well-written article.
But I have always felt that way. When I lost my father and my husband within 33 days of each other more than nine years ago, I didn’t see anything to be grateful for. I got stuck in stunned, sad, angry and confused. Then a wise friend suggested I be grateful for the years I did have with my beloved spouse. Slowly, inch by inch, my attitude began to change.
I realized some people never experience the happiness of “a better half,” and that they never know the joy of finding a soulmate. Not only had I had a father I loved deeply, Ihad loved a husband who loved me deeply in return. And I began to feel very, very grateful. That very thankfulness opened my mind and heart to other important questions such as what might I do with the rest of my life?
Writing was my first love. I flipped over the written word and loved learning to give voice to others’ ideas, thoughts and feelings as a journalist. Then I felt called to help the younger generations master those techniques. I found myself feeling grateful for both the opportunities journalism had afforded me and for the ongoing opportunity to teach and to encourage future journalists to take on difficult topics, research them and write about them well.
Then a friend who edits a national Methodist magazine asked me to write about gratitude. And I discovered what I now think of as “one of those essential books.” It’s become one of those books I keep returning to, rereading sections because they apply to the day’s joys or sorrows, triumphs or defeats.
Its author is John Kralik, a California attorney who turned his attitude – and eventually his life – around through the practice of gratitude. Kralik’s law practice, personal relationships and financial solvency were a wreck when he decided one January to spend the ensuing year writing 365 thank-you notes. He started his adventure by sending handwritten notes to 10 people who had given him Christmas presents. The discipline eventually turned into a book, “The Simple Act of Gratitude.”
Now a judge with the Los Angeles Superior Court, Kralik views gratitude as a natural – though often neglected – human response to God. But you don’t have to be religious, or even spiritual, to benefit from what he learned. Since I read his book, I have encountered people who keep daily gratitude journals. The journals help them see life in a different light. Held under the microscope of gratitude, even shattering experiences – work setbacks, divorce, job loss, the death of a loved one – may bring us opportunities for reflection, redirection, and growth.
Just as with the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes when belief meant there was enough food to feed thousands, belief in gratitude is powerful. It twists its way through one soul, one individual, one community and moves on to open new vistas in minds and hearts.