Expressing Thanks for Daily Blessings

          “Take nothing for granted.” The complete stranger who spoke these words looked into my eyes; the elderly woman’s expression was earnest. She told me several more things and then vanished into the crowd waiting in the vestibule of the Cathedral of St. John in New York. I was there to see a pageant I was to take part in at another time. Her words made a strong impression on me and some forty plus years later still have. I didn’t make the connection then, but later I understood its application to the practice of gratitude.

It’s easy to acknowledge generous gifts with thanks. Gratitude for the larger things in life–good health, sufficient income, a happy family is more common. Most of us take much for granted, especially those things we rely on and use each day. Our small creature comforts too are easily ignored or remain unnoticed because we are busy or mentally preoccupied.

It is more difficult then to remember to express thanks for those small, even relatively insignificant daily gifts common to our ordinary lives. When I step into my shower, I feel appreciative of the stream of warm water, and I am reminded of my friend who lived with cold showers for months until her electricity was restored. As I get into my comfortable cozy bed and slide under my clean sheets and feather quilt I am grateful, and I do say so in my heart.

I rejoice over small blessings—a kind conversation with my daughter, the neighbor who offers to help me carry my groceries up the stairs or shovel the snow from my car, finding a book in the library by  a favorite author. Most are so preoccupied these days, it’s difficult to stop and take time to remember how fortunate they are. In my many years of life I have learned to be glad for these small gifts and others that thread my daily life with comfort and joy.

I learned this from a friend almost thirty years ago. I overheard him saying “Thank you little (memory fails me as to what it was) and continuing to express his gratitude to several more objects. Now I thank my car for bringing me safely both to my destination and back home. I thank my computer for bringing me my email and functioning as my writing tool. Can seemingly “dumb” machines hear and appreciate? I don’t know, yet I like to voice my appreciation and to treat my mechanical servants as nicely as if they were flesh and blood. It only seems fair.

People who live in countries where the only water available must be carried from a well in the center of the village would be unbelievably grateful to be able to turn on a tap. Not so long ago anyone wanting a bath had to have the water heated on a stove or over a fire and hauled to a tub. Imagine having to hitch your horse to a wagon to go into town for groceries or walk miles carrying them home.  At this season we are reminded to be thankful. It is well to remember that gratitude needs to be an everyday practice.

Giving Thanks is not just for Thanksgiving.

Deb's party food 2When I was growing up we usually said grace only at Thanksgiving, Christmas or on other very special occasions. I don’t remember any special discussion of gratitude in my family. God was often presented as a punitive figure, rather like my dad—as in or God will punish you for that, see if He doesn’t, and “Just wait until I tell your father what you did…” The church I grew up with emphasized being sorry for one’s sins and saying prayers for the protection and preservation of my family and myself. All that changed when I was in my mid thirties and I learned about the virtue of gratitude and its importance for a happy life.

I began giving thanks on a daily basis after a phone conversation with a wise older friend. She told me that rather than complain about what I thought I was lacking, I needed to be grateful for what I did have: good food to eat, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, warm clothes to wear, and so on. She reminded me how important it was to give thanks for the simple yet necessary blessings most take for granted. I believed her. Now these many years later, I am very grateful to her. An attitude of gratitude leads to true happiness.

When we focus on whatever there is in our lives that brings happiness, healing, kindness or friendship we are emphasizing that aspect in our lives. When we complain about our difficulties we are focusing on our lacks and our problems, most of which we can do little to nothing about. There is no happiness in dwelling on our misfortunes. When we do emphasize what is good in our lives it seems magically to increase. Giving thanks for that which we have as well as that which we do not have is an important key to a good life.

Gratitude for the bounty in our lives has been the theme of harvest celebrations throughout the ages. The Pilgrims did not host the first Thanksgiving ever, just their first one here in this country. Giving thanks to a higher power is common to nearly every religious or spiritual path. Most have some kind of ceremony to honor the powers that be that provide them with support and sustenance. After all, if the rains do not fall or the sun does not shine our food will not grow. Not a gardener myself, I know how grateful I am to the market and the farmstand that provide me with good, fresh food.

More than anything else I am grateful for the love that has come to me over the years. I have been extremely fortunate in the people I have met and with whom I have had the opportunity to interact. My friends, past, present and even future are important to me. I am thankful for each and every one. While some of those for one reason or another have vanished from my life, the experience of their past love remains to bless me with its warmth and the joyful memories of our happy times together. I am grateful for that good and for the dear ones still in my life.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Fall Maple Gold 2            When we first moved to Grafton I knew nothing about the surrounding area. We were back in New England because we had moved up from Virginia where we had lived for the past seven years, to be closer to family. A friend who lived in the area and liked it, had invited us to check it out. She helped us find a real estate agent, and we fell in love with a house in Grafton. Soon we met and became friends with an artist who lived in Worcester.

She offered to show me some of her favorite spots in and around the city. She and I spent the next months tramping around in the woods with her dog as we picked raspberries, blackberries, swam, and simply traipsed through in her favorite little wildernesses. It was a wonderful experience for which I am very grateful. Although I don’t see much of my friend these days, my memories of our adventures in the nature spots she showed me still warm my heart.

In my life there is much that has vanished away. As I have grown older I have lost friends and family members. I live differently now than I did twenty or even ten years ago. Of course all of this is appropriate. However when I was growing up and even in my early adult years I had no concept of the amount of change that I would live though. Were I to be regretful of these changes I might be filled with bitterness and sorrow for what no longer is part of my life. However, I do not choose to do that. I have too much to be grateful for.

When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant gathering with family at the home of either my Great Aunt of my Grandmother. I don’t remember anyone suggesting we speak about what we were grateful for, though of course someone always said Grace, a prayer of gratefulness. In those days I didn’t think much about gratitude. I was too busy caring for my home and family.

When I was in my early thirties I was invited by a friend to go to a conference where I met a remarkable teacher. She introduced me to the concept of expressing gratitude for those things in my life that I needed to be grateful for. I began then to practice my attitude of gratitude, and for many years I have said a short prayer of thanks whenever I am grateful. Some years later I had a houseguest who expressed gratitude toward his various and tools. I found this intriguing and as time went on have done this also, thanking my car for a safe journey, or my computer for helpful performance.

In a grateful heart there is no room for regret or resentment. My attitude of gratitude changed my life for the better and continues to enrich it today. The more I remember and express how grateful I am for the richness of my life and the joys that fill it, the less I miss what has passed from it. This year, on Thanksgiving as always I have much for which to be grateful, yet during the rest of the year there is no day on which I do not give thanks over and over again.