A humorous and insightful story I once heard goes like this: A top lawyer had successfully handled a difficult case for a very wealthy friend. Following this happy outcome, the wealthy friend and client went to see the lawyer. He told him how much he appreciated the work and effort put into handling his case, and then handed him a beautifully made Moroccan leather wallet.
Indignant and astonished, the lawyer quickly handed the wallet back to his friend, with a sharp reminder that a mere wallet could not possibly compensate him for his highly sought-after legal services. “My fee for all that work,” the attorney stated sharply, “is $5,000.”
His friend stared at him a moment, opened the wallet and removed five of the 10 $1,000 bills inside, handed them to the lawyer with a smile, then walked away. The lawyer’s lack of gratitude was costly.
Stores across the country will be filled with individuals looking to return or exchange Christmas gifts. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Clothes don’t always fit. Two or more of the same gift is received. A gift may literally serve no use or purpose. It’s not unappreciated, it’s just that the recipient would like to maximize its usefulness.
Unlike the lawyer in the illustration above, gratitude for the thought and effort put into acquiring and giving the gift is present. In other words, value has been attached and seen in the very act of giving itself. Gratitude sees and appreciates the act of giving; the gift is secondary.
What is gratitude? One writer defines it as “An affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received … and we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves … We acknowledge that other people — or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset — gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Another notes gratitude is a “personality trait, a mood and an emotion. As an emotion, gratitude is a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. While in a grateful mood, grateful emotions are more likely to traffic. Likewise, those with a more grateful personality are more likely to experience grateful moods and emotions.”
Lastly, one expert simply says gratitude is a mindset, an attitude that “shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.”
An attitude of gratitude is important. In my own life I’ve seen and felt how important it is to step back from time to time and acknowledge the many blessings and gifts in my life, regardless of the size, and how having such an attitude positively impacts me emotionally and mentally. An attitude of gratitude this holiday season allowed me to see one of the greatest gifts I didn’t have to unwrap was the gift of life itself.
It doesn’t mean my life is perfect — whose is? — but I realize there are so many beautiful and meaningful things in my life: my son, my parents and sister, my extended family, my job, my home, etc. Within these there have been and will be challenges, but gratitude allows me to see the joy, enrichment and blessings that people and things large and small add to my life.
When I lack such an attitude I can quickly tell the difference. I lose focus and perspective, am more prone to throw a pity party for myself and allow sadness and negativity to dominate. However, when it’s present I find more joy in the moment and energy to face and deal with the challenges of the moment.
This coincides with a growing body of psychological and scientific evidence showing the positive correlations between having an attitude or disposition of gratitude and its effect on the mind and body. Research has shown that those who practice gratitude consistently, among numerous other benefits: have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking; are more alert, alive and awake; experience more joy and pleasure; are more helpful, generous and compassionate; more outgoing; and feel less lonely and isolated.
Does that mean you don’t experience, feel or acknowledge pain, loss or hurt? Absolutely not. But as that old saying goes, “Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.”
As we get ready to step across the threshold of a new year, let’s do so with an attitude of gratitude — grateful for the lessons and blessings of 2016, and the possibilities and opportunities of 2017. Complaining and negativity seem to come easy, while displaying and exercising gratitude takes effort and sometimes requires us to pierce through pain and hurt to see the seeds of good and growth that lie within them. An attitude of gratitude is always a worthy and beneficial companion.