“When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren’t grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” -Cynthia Ozick
Communication is the currency of our relationships, literally the energetic equivalent and the substance that drives us towards or away from the people in our lives. Couple that with the fundamental and universal needs we all share for being seen and valued and you get a glimpse of the powerful alteration that happens in the world when you express gratitude. Unleashing the energy of gratitude in your life is all about re-focusing our attention and perfecting the art of appreciation.
What we focus on multiplies. To the degree that we keep our focus on what is wrong, we often entirely overlook what is right. In this same vein, our shared fixation on the how of getting things done, often overlooks the much more crucial question of why. Allowing the why of our lives and our relationships more focus, is a place of gratitude and clear intention. Focusing our attention on the why of what we love or the why we persist with a problem that won’t quite resolve opens you up to receiving, which is at once the prerequisite and the reward of feeling gratitude.
Attention is our most powerful resource and shining that light with gratitude upon the people and events in our lives, even and maybe especially when they challenge us changes the trajectory of our experience. Fear is vanquished in our gratitude and problem-solving acquires a serendipity that resolves the how in ways that were not previously accessible or visible to us. Gratitude expressed literally re-shapes the world you live in and begets more of the same.
Meister Eckhart once wrote, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Some days when I am groping for the path back to a grateful way of being in the world, I will just start to repeat the word thank you and look around. It is a simple but profound practice of noticing the details of your world, appreciating the small things like the changing scent in the air as the leaves fall or the comfort of a steaming cup of tea. It’s the easy banter of high school boys in the back seat of the car or the joy of my dog let loose on her walk. The more I say thank you out loud to these little events, the more there is to say thank you for. The first awkward ones that feel forced, quickly slip out of mind as my foul mood hasn’t a chance against the power of gratitude expressed. Expressing our gratitude is the doorway to receiving the goodness and love in our lives.
Bringing this same practice into your personal relationships will amaze you. Even strangers light up in recognition. When was the last time you noticed a waitress or a clerk for trying to please you or even mentioning how nice it was to be met by their smile? You may well be creating the nicest, most memorable moment of the day for them. Family members and partners oddly enough are often those who miss our appreciation most. I promise you will be stunned by the reciprocity that thank you engenders. Even the most jaded teenager softens at the words thank you.
I remember childhood admonishments to say thank you and feeling more beholden than gratitude when I obliged. I wish instead, I had learned as a child the magic of appreciation. Gratitude is truly the capacity that grows in us, where we see everything, even the most painful aspects of relating to life as a gift. This is how appreciation cultivates our best selves, by offering up the gentle but critical lessons that live inside of all adversity. Gratitude is the open door.