Gratitude is more than just a feeling of thankfulness. It is a state of being that can be expressed through words and actions, from saying or writing what you feel grateful for, to offering time, resources, gifts, support, and other kind deeds that show appreciation. 

The word “appreciation” itself has multiple meanings, all of which shed light on ways we can use it to improve our lives – and the lives of those around us.

To “appreciate” means:

• To be fully conscious of
• To hold in high regard
• To be grateful for
• To increase or grow

Combining these definitions through the lens of gratitude means that to truly appreciate something, you must be fully aware of it, hold it in high regard, feel thankful for the benefits it provides, and through those actions, help it grow. Without those steps, the object of your gratitude will surely diminish. 

Relationships grow when you appreciate them. When you show gratitude for someone’s talents and contributions, they tend to flourish. When you acknowledge and celebrate the love in your life, it becomes even stronger. Conversely, ignoring these very same things will cause them to languish and fade. 

We all know these principles to be true, but have difficulty keeping gratitude (and all of the things we have to be grateful for) at the front of our minds. It’s often in times of crisis, when we’re about to lose something we love, that we see how precious those things are. 

With the right point of view, guided by the right principles, we can instead find gratitude for many things – from the most important relationships to the tiniest gifts of daily life. A grateful point of view becomes an attitude you carry into each and every interaction, inspiring generosity and openness that, in turn, creates more blessings to be grateful for. 

Generosity and gratitude go hand in hand. They guide us to offer ourselves to others without expectation of anything in return. We receive life as a gift, and give that gift to others freely. 

While many of the benefits of gratitude (for yourself and others) come from expression and action, the attitude begins from within. It’s a practice that starts from a place of conscious choice, making the active decision to see and receive life as a gift, to acknowledge goodness in all its forms, and to maintain an open heart regardless of what we encounter. 

There are four points of entry to the experience of gratitude. These portals can present themselves in a variety of ways, and recognizing them when they appear is key to developing a capacity for an ongoing attitude of gratitude. These portals are:

• Blessings
• Learnings
• Mercies
• Protections

Before we delve into these entryways in greater detail, understand that the cultivation of gratitude is a cross-cultural virtue – from Hebrew scriptures to the New Testament and the Quran, the philosophies of Cicero to monks, poets, and leaders from across time and around the world. Maintaining a general disposition of gratitude is the foundation of other virtues like joy, trust, wisdom, integrity, and beyond. 

A mindful disposition, recognizing goodness as it comes to you and seeking silver linings in even the bleakest situations, leads to a compassionate and open way of interacting with the world.

Learn to recognize these opportunities (portals) for experiencing the powerful force of gratitude:

Blessings

The most universal and common source of gratitude, blessings are “the good things” we experience, whether large or small. A blessing is an endowment from the universe, the gifts that lead to growth, connection, healing, and ultimately, a sense of meaning.

Learnings

Sometimes obscured as sources for gratitude, learning isn’t always pleasant on the surface – and yet, is an essential component of every type of development. Learning is the source of expansion. When we face the unfamiliar, take risks, or encounter challenges, it is an invitation to develop into the next version of ourselves – and that is always worthy of gratitude. 

In hindsight, we’ll call past challenges “a wake up call” or “a blessing in disguise,” but if we can recognize them as they’re happening, such a mindset has the power to change our entire perspective. 

Asking yourself “what did I learn today” is profound, reframing challenges as sources of meaning and sources of life-changing education.

Mercies

To be merciful is to offer forgiveness, leeway, patience, and compassion. Receiving mercy alleviates stress, reduces guilt, and provides a path for moving forward. Both sides of this coin are reasons for gratitude.

Offering mercy to others is benevolence in action, and comes from a place (as discussed above) of meeting the world as it is – of accepting the things that happen with an open heart. Being ABLE to be merciful is worthy of gratitude, in that it means you have the capacity to assess a situation, an action, an attitude, etc., and meet it with forgiving grace. 

Perhaps more direct, receiving even the smallest mercies can be a portal into an attitude of gratitude. This could be as large as an intimate talk with a loved one that forgives you for some past hurt, or something as small as catching all of the traffic lights… It’s recognizing when the world “gives you a break” and taking the time  to acknowledge even the smallest mercies.

Protections

By our very nature, human beings want to feel safe and protected – whether that’s protection through physical means like shelter, clothing, or healthcare, or less concrete examples like status, family, wisdom, and so on.

Protections are always worth our gratitude, but might not always be obvious if we aren’t actively looking for them. The best protections are the ones we don’t even notice – a stable support group, a reliable vehicle, a safe home… But when we point our focus toward them, we might be surprised to see just how much we have to be grateful for.

Acknowledging protections has a way of reducing other “threats” as well. The problems in our lives might not loom so large when we consider how much we have keeping us safe. This goes beyond the immediate as well. We can have the protection of our ancestors, our culture, our beliefs… Of institutions and ideas… And even the protection of our own intellect.

The universal portals to gratitude are present in daily life, if only we’re willing to look for them. Even amid times of difficulty, we can find reasons to be grateful, and making an active effort to do so can bring us back to a place of openness and appreciation as we navigate life’s paradoxical patterns of happiness and suffering. 

Gratitude is how we remember that life is indeed a gift. It points focus toward kindness, cherished interactions with others, chance encounters with strangers, small daily blessings, and the lessons available all around us. It is a way of honoring the ways we’re all shaped by environment and patterns of thought, and directly invites core components of the life well lived: connection, creativity, healing, and wholeness. 

Holding an ongoing attitude of gratitude is not without its obstacles, however. Devious intruders like envy, pride, greed, and narcissism stand directly in the way of thankfulness. Envy comes from comparison, and makes us unsatisfied with what we have (instead of seeing our blessings with open hearted gratitude). Pride makes us ignore lessons that feel beneath us, and closes us off to transformative growth. Greed causes us to hoard wealth, power, and status as a safeguard against some sense of lacking – the total opposite of acknowledging small blessings and protections. Finally, narcissism puts our focus on the self, ignoring those people, situations, lessons, protections, and blessings that have helped us get to where we are. 

Tinges of these negative thought patterns may not be entirely avoidable, but recognizing that they directly conflict with the principles (and benefits) of gratitude is in itself a protection worth being grateful for! 

When we practice gratitude, we empower the spirit. We set our intentions on goodness and growth, not resentment and negativity. Through gratitude, we can reclaim a state of natural oneness with our surroundings and a sense of calm wellbeing. When we see experiences as gifts worthy of discovery, it leads to an ever expanding awareness that connects us to our best selves. What we appreciate, appreciates! 

With all of this in mind, here are a few simple exercises that can help point your mental compass toward gratitude:

1. Daily Gratitude List

Each day, write down 3 things you’re grateful for. Be specific! Don’t just jot down “family” or “friends” – instead take the time to describe your feelings, and give yourself space to truly feel them.

Make it a daily habit integrated into your routines. As the practice solidifies, you’ll look forward to the ritual.

2. Gratitude Letters

Think about 5 to 10 people that make a positive difference in your life, and write them each a letter to express your heartfelt gratitude. Be specific in your writing, and like the list, take the time to relish the positive feelings as you remember what these people have done for you. 

If possible, deliver the letters in person, and consider making this an ongoing habit. You could write new letters or choose new people each month, or write several simple “thank you” notes each day.

3. Photo Collection

Take photos of the things you appreciate, both large and small. As you move through the world, remember that there are blessings all around you – interactions, good meals, beautiful landscapes, works of art, etc. – and gather these experiences into a “gratitude album” that remains a work in progress. Keep your eyes open for these special moments, and in times of trouble, refer back to your photo collection for a little boost of happiness and appreciation.

4. Moments of Stillness

Throughout your day or week, pause to reflect on the good things that have happened, the lessons you’ve learned, and to appreciate the gifts of those no longer with us. Think about how your past has shaped your present, and honor those memories with stillness and silence.

5. Workplace Appreciation

Make a habit of showing gratitude in your professional life. Tell people when they’ve been helpful, when they’re doing great work, or when they brighten your day. Close meetings with words of thanks. Invest in kindness and camaraderie. 

When you acknowledge the goodness around you, you’re likely to create more.

 

Gratitude is among the most powerful forces in the universe. It changes our mindset from need to abundance, and is at the heart of growth. These principles will not only serve every aspect of your life, but guide you in service of others as well! It all begins with gratitude. 

This Thanksgiving – and all days – may you receive the blessing of walking with and from a boundless heart. For this is who you are. Stripping away anything but this, a path of a more courageous road of compassion, connection, and courage finds you there.

May everything the future needs be instilled, embodied, and enacted through you, this moment. May you walk into mystery with practical feet, and lean into others with relaxed attentiveness until your convivial and peripheral listening changes you. Tashi Delek!

And a special message, a poem titled Given to Give: