I am a technology teacher. I teach about 1000 students and teachers at two schools to use technology in the classroom. I have put together an extensive teaching website for my students Kindergarten-Sixth grade. I arrived at school on Wednesday to find a note that said:
Thank you for teaching me. I like your website. I especially like 'Typing Web'.
I've had this student site for about four years now and this is the first time I've received a note of thanks. It was a very short, simple note, printed out and left for me. I felt so good when I received it, that I felt like dancing. I hung the note on the wall next to my desk. I don't even really know who sent it as I teach several boys named Ethan, but I was strengthened by it nonetheless.
Why did that simple note from a child make me feel so good? I'll tell you why - It validated what I do day in and day out. It said, 'you make a difference'. When sincere gratitude is expressed, it lifts and builds the person who receives it. It is a strengthening gift that washes over the soul and makes one want to try a little harder, give a little more, and be a little better.
If expressing gratitude makes such a positive impact on the receiver and causes them to want to be a little better and try a little harder, then why is it that we don't express it more often? Wouldn't it be advantageous to give sincere thanks and appreciation to our children when they complete a task we've given them, to our spouse or friend for a kindness they've shown us, or a thank you to those we work with? It's so easy to find fault. It's so easy to say to our children, spouse or coworker, "Why didn't you do . . .?" We are sometimes quick to see what didn't happen, slow to praise what did happen. We become complacent in our expectations of others. We get rushed in life and neglect to express appreciation. The consequence of that neglect may be observed in the work place and at home. Productivity is lessened and attitudes are affected. So, why not show more appreciation to others? I might add that a verbal word of thanks is good, and occasional note of thanks is even better. I will save Ethan's note on my wall, to be reminded over and over of his words of kindness. The first blessing of gratitude then is to the receiver of the thanks.
The second gift of gratitude comes to the one with the grateful attitude, the one who expresses a feeling of appreciation and thankfulness for what has been received. One can do a quick search on line and find many studies that show the health benefits of being grateful. Those who cultivate gratitude are happier and more spiritually strong. They have a feeling of well-being, are less stressed, less depressed and more satisfied with their lives. I've noticed in my own life that when I cultivate an attitude of gratitude that I see abundance in my life rather than lack. How then do we develop the habit of being grateful?
At one point in my life, my view of myself was negative and pessimistic. I saw my cup as half empty rather than half full. I felt stressed out most of the time and I was frequently short or even grumpy with my family. I had a general feeling of being overwhelmed. I really didn't identify the problem as lack of gratitude on my part until after I took some steps to incorporate being more grateful and then recognized the positive change that had occurred.
I read a book called Simple Abundance. Reading this book helped me to change my pessimistic view of life to a more optimistic view. One of the tasks that the author suggests is to write down five things each day for which you are grateful. I decided that was simple enough and I would do it. Many days my list contained things like: I'm grateful to go to bed, I'm grateful for sunshine, I'm grateful the baby is asleep, I'm grateful to be home from work etc. However, as I practiced that exercise, my focus began to change. I was able to see the good in my own being and life. Over time I developed the ability to see the small blessings and tender mercies that occurred during the day. I was able to see the blessing in the trials. After changing my own inward focus of self, I was more readily able to see the good in others. I felt more content, fulfilled, and happier. A year or so later I received a compliment that I will never forget. The principal I worked for at the time said to me, "Susan, you are one of the most positive people I know." At that point I received the confirmation that I had changed. My effort to change my focus took some time, but had been successful. Of course the principal had no idea how much that little comment meant to me. I felt like a winner.
Fifteen years later I'm still making my gratitude lists. The format has changed and expanded. Now I start and end each day with a mental listing of my blessings and a prayer of thanks. On days when I can't sleep, I count blessings rather than sheep. I like to go for a walk or bike ride and look for the beauties around me and count my blessings. I occasionally send a letter or note of thanks to someone.
I am very glad that I've experienced the two blessings of gratitude. I have an incredible life of abundance. I see beauty and blessings everywhere. I have a general sense of well-being. Do I still have trials? Of course I do, I'm still alive. Do I ever feel down and struggle? Yes. Do I forget to acknowledge those who help me? Yes. I'm not perfect. But, more days than not, I can see abundance in my regular person life and I'm grateful.
Here's to living strong.
 Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach (see book club for more information)