“For this and all we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful, Lord.”
– Traditional Meal Blessing
I like to think I practice “an attitude of gratitude” for all the blessings I receive on a daily basis. I do much better on some days than others, but I still want to believe that more often than not I am truly grateful for all I have received. In these past days and weeks and months, though, I have often struggled to find reasons to be thankful for all that has happened.
Then I read a blog post that suggested gratitude and gratefulness are not the same. The author, Kristi Nelson, suggested gratitude is more transactional – someone does something for me and I express my gratitude. Someone holds a door open, invites me to share a meal, or gives me a gift, and I respond by saying thank you. Gratitude is a social courtesy I learned as a child. It is a good and valuable habit, but it often does not rise to the level of gratefulness.
I have a plaque that sits on the window sill above my bed that reads, “Today is a gift from God. Remember to thank him for it.” And I do. But I also receive many things throughout the day that I fail to thank God for, and if I am honest, I am far from thankful for some things I receive that may not be what I want or what I think I need at the time. It is in those moments when I most need to pray, “For this and all I am about to receive, may I be truly grateful, Lord”, for it is then I begin the practice of gratefulness.
Gratefulness is more about an overall orientation toward life. Kristi Nelson described gratefulness this way: “When we wake up in the morning and experience a sense of gratefulness just for the fact of being alive, with our heart and senses open to the gifts and opportunities of another day, it’s a more radical approach to gratitude that’s not contingent on something happening to us, but rather a way that we arrive to life.” In short, gratefulness does not need a reason.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is happiness. But later, when we don’t have a toothache, we don’t treasure our non-toothache.” Gratitude is the relief we feel when the pain of the toothache is gone; gratefulness is treasuring every moment that we do not have a toothache.
Gratitude is savoring a meal after I have been fasting; gratefulness is savoring every bite of every meal knowing it is my choice to eat or fast, and my choice what I will eat. I know many people in our world do not have a choice of what they will eat or whether they will have enough to eat any given day.
Gratitude is the feeling I experienced when I landed the job I wanted; gratefulness is finding joy in the ability and opportunity to work at any job, even if it was not my ideal job. Saint John Paul II wrote in his Encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”, 1981), “work is a fundamental dimension of [each person’s] existence on earth” and a person “achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’” through one’s ability to work.
Gratitude is enjoying the beauty of the colorful spring flowers, a blazing sunset or changing leaves in fall; gratefulness is appreciating the gift of sight every day, even when I see things I don’t want to see, things that are not pleasing to the eye but have something to teach me anyway, like the events in our nation and our world this past year.
Gratitude is enjoying the company of and conversation with family and friends; gratefulness is appreciating the gift of family and friends every day, even when I hear things I don’t want to hear like criticism, discord, or challenges. These, too, can be my teachers if I receive them with an open mind and grateful heart.
These are just a few examples. There are so many opportunities each day for us to transform an attitude of gratitude into the practice of gratefulness. When I can remember to practice gratefulness, it makes the dark days a little lighter, the hard days a little easier. Gratefulness helps me to see the lessons I need to learn and the ways I need to grow.
How many can opportunities to practice gratefulness can you find today?
– Marge Lindell
If you want to work on practicing gratefulness in your life, you may want to check out gratefulness.org where I found Kristi Nelson’s blog post: