The secret ingredient of gratitude

For the record, gratitude is consistently one of the words I always have to think about as I spell.

I pronounce it grad-i-tude — so I always want to write a “d.”  I also pronounce “congratulations” with a “d” sound — except when I say congrats.

But I digress.

Next week is Thanksgiving.

I plan to make this pie and this turkey and my Grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe. My son and I have been discussing what Thanksgiving is and why we celebrate it and what’s up with this rock named Plymouth.

But we’ve also been discussing gratitude and what that means — which, for a 5-year-old, isn’t an overly detailed explanation but one that begins to instill the idea that what we have is enough.

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I read an interesting study not long ago that talked about gratitude as THE defining thing that affects peoples’ happiness levels. It quoted the book, “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” saying:

Whether you win the lottery or are paralyzed from the neck down, after about three to six months you’ll have returned to your usual level of happiness. While these findings are deeply counter-intuitive, they also raise a serious problem for those wanting to increase levels of happiness permanently. A possible answer comes from recent research in the psychology of gratitude. Yes, you read that correctly – being thankful might be the key to raising your happiness ‘set-point’.

I think that’s because gratitude adds an extra ingredient to the feeling of happiness — one that comes from a deeper place than a fleeting emotion. Gratitude, as GK Chesterton says, is not just happiness: it’s “happiness doubled by wonder.”

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It is the acknowledgement that something beautiful, inexplicable, bigger than ourselves has a hand in our lives. It is knowing that the blessings before us are not of our own doing — even the blessings in disguise. It is the surprise of the little miracles all around us. It is joy.

In many ways, I think gratitude comes very natural to children. I may still have to remind my 5-year-old to say Thank you and my 2-year-old that no, not everything is “mine!” But I never have to remind them that the earth is full of awe.

Because they find it completely magical that every day the sun rises and the moon sets. That food grows from the ground. That water flows when we turn a handle and light illuminates when we flip a switch. They squeal with delight when their grandparents stop by and can’t sleep when they know friends are coming the next day.

They drink up the little joys that we so often take for granted — they unwrap the God-given gifts of love, beauty and life with curiosity and enthusiasm.

They are in a constant state of wonder about the world — and really, they are entertained with the most basic of things until I hand them a singing toy or a glowing screen. In many ways, “appreciation” comes very naturally to them.

So as I’m teaching my son about gratitude, he’s teaching me. As I’m reminding him to say thank you, he’s reminding me to stare at the stars. As I’m wondering how best to help him be gracious, he’s showing me what it means to wonder.

And for that, I am truly thankful.

The secret ingredient of gratitude

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