Not just for one day each year...
WARNING: BIG TRUTH TALK COMING BELOW…
I heard a profound preacher and peacemaker named Penny Nixon say this from the pulpit once:
True gratitude turns into the service of others. If we are truly grateful for the gifts each of us has been given in this life, we use them to serve others.
I recently wrote about ambition. I said that ambition can be driven by love or fear. (You can read the article HERE. Those who move from love-driven ambition think first of “the many” vs. “the one.” This principle applies to gratitude as well.
It’s not enough to say, “I’m grateful.” We must enact our gratitude. James Taylor says it best in his song “Shower the People.”
Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if we only will.
There is a lot of hype and capitalism surrounding the theme of Gratitude right now. We are seeing many journals, cards, products, and apps aiming to form a daily practice and habit of gratitude in our lives. While this is noble, and the convenience of having it somewhere we are sure to look (on our desks, nightstands, phones, or computers…) is attractive to us in our lifestyles, this kind of reflection on gratitude is private and introspective. It is not enacted. Of course, it’s helpful to each of us personally to have a private reflection on the things we are grateful for in our lives. Gratitude that is shown and enacted outwardly packs a much larger punch, though. It is reflected back to us when we least expect it. It is contagious, and it spreads like wildfire within communities.
It makes music sound better, too, by the way. 😉
This gratitude is long-lasting in terms of its impact and memory. This type of gratitude can heal wounds and unite our families - both given and chosen.
This gratitude is freely given. It is not “owed” or “expected.” It is random and organic. The trick is to ACT on it when the impulse arrives within us. If you’re suddenly feeling grateful for someone in your life, the best thing you can do is text, email, or call them immediately and tell them.
Many people have shared the wisdom that they discovered true gratitude in their lives when it was too late. Three books come to mind:
GRATITUDE by Dr. Oliver Sacks - written shortly before his death. This book is a wonderful and quick read. The nice thing is that the book is so direct and to the point and so quick to read that you can read it over and over again. Told from the perspective of a doctor who has also experienced a lot of suffering of the worst kinds in real human beings, Sacks finds himself suddenly paying attention to his own life (for a change), and the results are moving, to say the least.
THE LAST LECTURE by Prof. Randy Pausch was also written shortly before his death. From the official description of the book:
A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?
When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.
In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." --Randy Pausch
TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE by Mitch Albom also deals with confronting the reality of mortality in the end stages of life. The nice thing about this true story is that the trajectory of the conversation between Albom and Morrie is longer and more detailed. Since Morrie’s death is a longer process than the aforementioned authors, there is more time to dig into specific questions that only life-earned wisdom can answer.
You might notice that all of the above books deal with death. I’m sure this seems morbid, and it may even seem to cast aspersions on life, prophesying the inevitable grimness of each of our fates.
True Gratitude can also come from having a proper birdseye view of our lives. Looking at the scope of what we all go through in life from start to finish hones our perspective on what is important.
Often, when I feel deep, abiding anger toward someone in my life, one of the first things I will do is think about what I would say about that person if I were asked to speak at their funeral. I know it sounds crazy, but I can say with certainty that this exercise almost always lowers my internal anger temperature with regard to the situation. It can also be helpful to think about what I’d want those who love me to say about me at my own funeral.
These thought explorations are, to my mind, much more useful than making a list of superficial (and mostly material) possessions in an app on my phone!
If you’re sitting here reading this and you feel annoyed or uncomfortable, this probably means you would benefit more than others by doing one or more of these exercises or reading a book mentioned above.
Think about this as you gather with family and friends, possibly stand around the dinner table, teary-eyed, and list the things you are grateful for.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not here to diminish the words of kindness and gratitude we share with ourselves and one another. But show your gratitude through ACTION. I hope I can remember to enact my gratitude for the many rich blessings I’ve received in my life more often than not. And I hope I can find a pathway toward gratitude even for the challenges that befall me, no matter how immense or seemingly insurmountable. It’s a tall order, so I will tread lightly on myself when I don’t succeed at this. Life is always beautifully malleable.
Seriously, I have always said that the ideas I have put forth, the company I formed, the programming I offer, and the pedagogy I peddle 🤣 would not mean a hill of beans if they were not exchanged with people who have shown me tremendous respect and gratitude. So I will continue to do more, make more, offer more, and teach more - as Penny once instructed me to do.
You can play the game. You can act out the part,
though you know it wasn’t written for you.
Tell me, how do you stand there with your broken heart
ashamed of playing the fool?
But one thing can lead to another. It doesn’t take any sacrifice.
Father and Mother, and Sister and Brother:
If it feels nice, don’t think twice.
Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel.
Things are gonna be much better if we only will.
You can run but you cannot hide. This is widely known.
And what you gonna do with your foolish pride when you’re all by yourself alone?
Once you tell somebody the way that you feel, you can feel it beginning to ease.
I think it’s true what they say about the squeaky wheel - always get in grease,
And turn to Shower the people you love with love…