“Don’t forget to say thank you.” Parents remind their kids all the time. I remember once hearing my mother say this to me, to which I replied…why?? “Don’t be smart! Just say thank you.” I thought I was being pretty brave by asking that question. Although I never asked it again! Until now-- Why be grateful? Seriously. The answer sounds obvious…So you don’t take things in your life for granted. To make the other person feel good. So people don’t say you’re rude. It’s a social norm. It’s just a nice thing to do.
While all of these are indeed true, I believe that there is another reason for gratitude. Something primal, that goes to the core of our being. Feeling gratitude is not a learned trait. Gratitude doesn’t come from the brain. It comes from the heart. When someone expresses kindness towards us, something within tugs at us to express gratitude in return. Why is that? The expression of kindness towards us is an expression of love—an expression of God.
Everything in the universe works on the principle of dynamic exchange. The trees breathe in our exhalation and we breathe the tree’s exhalation. When we receive the energy of love, we develop a tug to return the love. This dynamic exchange is expressed by the law of giving and receiving. But this begs the question, why does that law exist? What purpose does gratitude--the dynamic exchange, serve?
I truly believe that gratitude connects us with God, Source. Each time we express the feelings of gratitude we touch the Divine within us. There are differing levels of gratitude which determine the strength of the Divine connection. A simple “thank you” or “thanks” may lead to a mild connection, albeit a connection nonetheless. A step beyond a simple “thank you” would be the actual feeling of gratitude. It is the the warm, loving expressive feeling of wanting to reach out and make the connection. This feeling of gratitude is a stronger energy and thereby generates a stronger connection with the Divine.
Beyond saying it or feeling it, is the actual doing or expression of gratitude. Here we take action to do something for the other person. This could be a note, a gift, or service. And the gift need not be monetary. A flower, a prayer, a hug or a compassionate ear can be enormously beneficial. This form of gratitude holds the strongest energy and thereby creates the strongest connection with the Divine.
On a very practical level, gratitude helps to alleviate our own suffering by interrupting our current thought patterns. Whatever we have going on in our lives and however powerful the stream of stress thoughts we may be experiencing, the thought, the feeling or the act of gratitude, disrupts that stream, even if only for a short period of time. It is impossible to feel gratitude and stress at the same time. It is impossible to feel gratitude and anger at the same time. The regular practice of gratitude will little-by-little, begin to lessen the experience of anger, depression or stress in your life and develop more of the experience of peace, love, joy and compassion.
So how do we cultivate a regular sense of gratitude?
As you lie in bed, before going to sleep, think of at least 3 things you are grateful for. This could be people, experiences, physical condition or even the things in your life like a roof over your head, a car, or a job.
When thanking someone in an email, avoid using “thanks.” “Thank you” goes deeper.
Instead of sending a thank you email or text, consider a hand-written note .
If you have a regular meditation practice, incorporate a few minutes as you begin your meditation, on what you are grateful for.
If you’re into journaling, keep a Gratuity Journal. List all the things, people and experiences you are grateful for. This will also trigger a reminder to express your gratitude directly to the other person. After some time, going back on previous entries will be a power reinforcement of the good in your life.
If you’re financially up to it, show your appreciation by taking the other person to dinner or purchasing a small but thoughtful gift.
If money is tight right now, give them a call, write them a note
Remember, our gratitude doesn’t always have to be directed toward another person. Take time to reflect and thank God for the blessings in your life. When we meet kindness with gratitude; when we meet love with love; for that moment our authentic Divine self becomes one with the universal Divine. We glimpse God. And for that, I am eternally grateful.