“The more you are grateful for what you have the more you will have to be grateful for”
― Zig Ziglar
The above quote, or some variation of it, is something that I have heard several times as I move through various magical circles and traditions. It is, after all, a quasi-universal axiom that has been repeated over and over again by various spiritual leaders, teachers, and light-workers. For example:
- The scriptures are filled with endless verses regarding the concept of gratitude. For the Christian and the Jew alike, it is believed that all things comes form God and so gratitude is an essential part of worship and praise. A few relevant verses can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Psalms 30:12 and Psalms 9:01.
- In like fashion, Islamic teachings states that the first to enter paradise will be those who praised God in all things and that those who are grateful will be given more (Sura 14).
- In the spiritual path of Buddhism, kindness and gratitude are two practices that the adherent are encouraged to develop together. Gratitude for a kindness is more that a general appreciation but rather a special kind of appreciation in which one honors the effort put forth by the one who extended the kindness.
More than Thank You, What is Gratitude?
Growing up poor in the South, I was taught manners and what it means to say "Please" and "Thank You'. When a neighbor gave you a dollar for picking up a loaf of bread at the Piggly Wiggly, you say thank you even though you wished it was $5.00 because that might be the last dollar that person owns. They made that sacrifice to show you that they were thankful for running the errand for them. I was also taught what it means to be thankful for what you have because only by the grace of God did we have food, a home, and clothes on our backs.
Somewhere along the way, these words become rote. We say them to and accept them from others but do we really express gratitude fully and completely? Well all know that gratitude is a state of thankfulness and the willingness to return a favor or kindness. However, it is more than simply saying thank you to someone or to God, the Universe, Spirit, etc....Gratitude is an emotion. It is just as powerful an emotion as love, hate, envy, happiness, etc...and has a profound effect on the human psyche, behavior, and outlook.
Like many emotions there are different types of gratitude. Its the surprise and delight when someone does something nice for your unexpectedly or out of character, it is the combination of thankfulness and relief when you find out its not cancer, it is the happiness and satisfaction that comes with being able to leave your waiter a large tip when you know he's having a bad day.
How to Show Gratitude
William Arthur Ward once said that feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it away. Many of us, myself included, have often felt grateful for whatever reason but find it hard to really express that gratitude in a satisfactory way. For example, in October of 2013 my car died and it took me until June of 2014 before I could replace my car. During those 7 months, I had to take public transportation which added 4 hours of travel time to my day. I got up at 5 am and I didn't come home until after 6 pm in the evening. I was often tired, and lacked the time to do anything I really wanted to do (which explains why I stopped blogging for several months).
When I finally got a new car, I was so grateful and appreciative, but I did not know how to express my gratitude. So I began to show my gratitude in small ways that became increasingly larger. For example, every time I passed a bus I took a deep breathe, thanked God for providing me with reliable transportation and then slowing releasing my breath duplicating the sense of "relief" I recognize as feeling grateful.
Then one day, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home. As I was putting my bags in the trunk of my car I saw a blind man and his companion that I recognized as having ridden the same bus route I once did that took me to my home. It was less than a mile from the store to my apartment but it was all uphill and it dawned on me: If someone would have offered me a ride all those times I had to carry heavy bags of groceries from the store to my house I would have really appreciated it. So I pulled up to them, introduced myself and introduced myself. They remembered me from the bus and I was able to give them a ride home. Being able to give these two a ride was a simple act of kindness that probably meant more to me than those two men but it really opened my eyes to how I can express my gratitude to God for all he has provided me and done for me.
When I recognized my act of kindness as an expression of gratitude, I realized that I had been practicing gratitude all along without realizing what I was doing. I have always been a generous person, even in times when I had nothing. It is in my nature to give, to render help, to sacrifice my own needs to provide for others because I have been provided for. Whether it has been money, my time, my services, or sharing my knowledge and experiences. For me it is a giving of myself without expectation of anything in return.
In a similar way, I recognized that my expressions of gratitude was not limited to being a giving person but rather in my willingness to find the spiritual lesson in a negative situation or experience. It is often been said that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes and so I learned to be thankful for my enemies because they taught me the value of my own strength; I am thankful for false-friends because they taught me the value of independence; I am thankful for being sick because it taught me to appreciate good health; I am thankful for losing a job because it forced me to get out of a negative, unhealthy situation and opened the way for something better.
Finally, I recognized the wisdom of being satisfied with enough. What that means is, so many of us get caught up in the rat-race. We accumulate things because we think it will bring us happiness and satisfaction but its never enough. Whether its a bigger house to replace your current one, the newest cell phone model, gaming system, etc.... its a never-ending quest that fails to bring contentment. When you are not satisfied with what you have, you are not showing the universe that you are grateful for what you have been given in the first place.
Imagine that you got up early one morning and decided to buy your co-workers coffee and donuts; and when you gave your co-workers these gifts they complained that the donuts are stale or the coffee is too cold, too sweet, too bitter, etc... How likely would you be to buy them coffee and donuts again? I imagine not very likely. So how likely do you think God is to improve your situation if you are not grateful when he has given you enough? With this idea in mine, I shifted my thinking from my "have nots" to my "haves". My apartment may not be a mansion, but it keeps me warm in the winter and dry in the rain the same as a mansion. My car may need a paint job, but it gets me to a fro. My glasses may be 10 years old but I can still see.
And that, for me, is how I express my gratitude to my God and my Spirits for all the good and abundance that they have afforded me.