"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
William Arthur Ward
I couldn't agree with that quote more, but sometimes it's hard to be grateful. I always want to be grateful and I honestly give it my best effort, but sometimes I just plain forget. As important gratitude is to me and as much as I want to share my thankfulness with others, sometimes it slips my mind and it isn't until later (sometimes years later!) that I realize what a wonderful thing someone did for me. Over the past month, however, I've started thinking about gratitude differently and in doing so it's become much more of a priority for me.
How have my thoughts about gratitude changed lately? I've begun to think of gratitude not as an obligation or as something that is healthy for me, but as an act of love. It sounds a bit cheesy when I write that down, but, really, what is gratitude if it's not love? Thankfulness -- in whatever form -- is essentially a way to love someone else. Let's say someone -- maybe even a complete stranger -- does something nice for you. How can you express that you are happy and thankful? By being grateful. Gratitude is a universal kind of love, an appreciative kind of love. It's something deep and meaningful and important. When you love someone, you cannot help but incorporate gratitude into that love. But what about the love you incorporate into gratitude?
There's something vitality important about thinking about gratitude as an act of love that has inspired me to think about gratitude in an entirely new way. I've always thought of it as important, but now I feel as if it's something essential -- not only in terms of improving my personal relationships, but also in terms of improving the world as a whole. I've always wanted to cultivate gratitude, but now that I think about it in terms of love, I want to give and receive it like love. I want to use gratitude to make others feel good and I want to know that when someone is grateful for me or for something I've done, that his or her gratitude will mean more to mean than the simple "Thank you" I receive.
As important as it is to feel gratitude -- and it is important in terms of your overall wellbeing -- it's also important to express that gratitude. Gratitude, I've found, can sometimes slip through the cracks. You might feel it. You might mean to show it. But you don't. And that's a dangerous thing. When you forget to show gratitude, you are essentially forgetting to show love. It happens -- especially if, like me, you're surrounded by wonderful people doing wonderful things all the time (Thank you, friends and family!) -- but it doesn't mean it's something we should be content with happening. Forgetting to be grateful is a forgetfulness of love, and, I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to forget the love in my life. It's a precious thing, a thing that can disperse or dissolve, and for that reason I want to make every effort to show those I love how grateful I am to have them around.
Over the past month, as I've been thinking about gratitude in a new way, I've given some thought to how I can really express my gratitude -- my love -- for those who mean a lot to me. As with the post I wrote on Monday about expressing love, there are countless ways to show gratitude and many of them are highly individualized. One grateful act might be wonderful for someone and a pain in the ass for someone else. It's up to you to figure out how to show your thankfulness in your own life, but here are some of the things I've tried to do over the past month to show those I love just how grateful I am.
How To Say "I Love You" With Gratitude
Saying thank you -- and meaning it. Sounds so obvious, I know. You're probably thinking, "I know that one, Dani!" but think about it for a minute. How often do you say thank you and really, really mean it? How often does your tone and body language and the look in your eyes convey just how grateful you are? I was raised with the please-and-thank-you manners too; we all know how important it is to give thanks. But that doesn't mean we're necessarily doing it sincerely, expressing how we feel to the level we really mean it. Over the past month or so I've been trying really hard to say thank you with true emotion and conviction. I want those I am grateful to to really know that I mean it, that whatever they've done for me has made a big difference in my life. Even if it's a small act of kindness, it never hurts to be enthusiastic when you say, "Thank you!"
Going out of your way for someone. It's easy for use to get caught up in our busy lives and focus primarily on ourselves and what's going on around us. But how much effort does it really take to take a pause and look around you to see if you can help someone else out? This month I've tried my best to slow down and look around. There are so many people in my life that I am grateful for and it doesn't take all that much effort to look around and see if I can help them out in some small way. Even if it's just a phone call to my mom to say, "How's your day going?" or holding open a door for a coworker with his hands completely full, small acts can make a big difference in people's lives and they are great ways to show you're grateful. You don't always have to do the direct "thank you" thing. There are indirect ways, like going just a little bit out of your way for someone else, that can really show others how much you love them.
Sending little cards and gifts. Now, as a disclaimer for this point, I'm just going to say that I was raised in a household where cards and gifts are a big deal. As I've grown older, I realize this is not the case for everyone. Not everyone expresses love in this way and I know that, no matter what, things are no substitute for actions. People would much rather be treated well than receive a gift as a token of love. That being said, it never hurts to pick up a little something for someone who means a lot to you. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but sometimes a little surprise is just what you need to show someone how much you love -- and are grateful for -- him or her. I'm a huge fan of sending cards (real cards, not e-cards -- though those are better than nothing!) and I think it's such a great, simple way to say to someone, "Hey, you matter to me. You matter so much, in fact, that I took the time to pick out, write, address, stamp, and send this card to you." These days, with all of the click-and-send stuff we can do, that kind of thing actually means a lot.
Treating others how they want to be treated. You know the old saying, "Treat others how you would like to be treated"? Yeah, that's bullshit. People don't want to be treated the way you want to be treated. They want to be treated the way they want to be treated. This, of course, requires a lot more effort on your part, making it an extra-great way to show how much you are grateful for someone else. It's very easy to do things your way, to treat others as you think you'd like to be treated, but it takes way more effort to go out of your way and figure out what it is that makes someone else happy. You have to pay attention. You have to be present. You have to make an effort. Believe me, this is not an easy one, and, worse yet, it may not be fully recognized or appreciated at the time, but, nonetheless, I think this is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to showing someone you love him or her. It is the ultimate selflessness, the primary way to recognize that someone else matters just as much (if not more!) than you do. Over the past month I've tried to be conscious of what others want and I've tried to do things the way others would want them done. This isn't easy and I'm certainly no expert at it, but I know that it is a great way to show just how grateful you are.
Sometimes being grateful and expressing your love for someone else through your gratitude can be so easy. Other times it can get lost in the mix of life, buried somewhere under your To Do list and trampled by the millions of things you need to get done. But, as the quote above says, feeling gratitude and not expressing it is a waste of effort. It actually means something to feel grateful and that feeling can be wasted if you don't do what you can do share it with others. (Note: Sometimes gratitude just cannot be shared and sometimes it's downright inappropriate to go out of your way to share it. In those cases, I think it's best to keep that feeling as a reminder so that someday you can pass on a kind act or feeling to someone else.) Whether or not you realized it before, or are just coming to realize it now as I am, gratitude really is love. Sometimes it's a great big OMG kind of love. Other times it's a small simple love. But, no matter what, gratefulness is love. It's essential to the very essence of love and love is essential to the very essence of gratitude.
[Note: Today's post is part of Random Acts of Kick Arse (RAOKA), a group I'm very fortunate to be a part of.The group joins together every month to take part in committing random acts. Each month we have a different theme and for the month of January the theme was "gratitude." Check out the other members of the group here: Jungle of Life, Jane Be Nimble, Gazehound's Animal Communications, Positive Provocations, and Life, Laughs & Lemmings.]