“Heaven and earth listen and respond to the soul that is quickened into praise and thanksgiving … Praise is gratitude in action.”
—Myrtle Fillmore (How to Let God Help You, Unity Books)
Gratitude is recognizing our abundance, acknowledging it, and openly appreciating it by giving praise and thanks. It is knowing everything is a gift. Even challenges and heartache bring opportunities for blessings. Gratitude is the spiritual practice of taking nothing for granted.
A wonderful gratitude story is the gospel passage about the 10 lepers. Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee when he was approached by 10 lepers. They stood at a distance, calling:
“‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:13-19 ).
Nine lepers ran to show the priest they were clean but didn’t stop to express gratitude. Their healing was different from the one who thanked Jesus. The 10th leper delayed his own gratification to show gratitude to the one who healed him. He was changed at depth.
There are three components to gratitude: recognition, acknowledgment, and appreciation.
- We recognize that we have received something quite amazing. We recognize the gift of life and the presence of the Divine. Gratitude changes us, our thoughts, our feelings, and our perception of the world.
The underpinning of the leper’s gratitude was recognizing the presence of God in his healing. He recognized Jesus’ connection with God and that God was working in and through Jesus.
- We acknowledge our good—one of the most powerful change agents in addition to love and humility. We can physically feel the difference when we move from negativity to gratitude. Try it, and notice the physical and mental change it brings about.
- Appreciate the simple things. For instance, we can recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the amazing gift of a hot shower. We can express gratitude for water, for the plumbers who installed the pipes, for the people who work at the water filtration plant so we will have clean water to drink and bathe in. Or appreciate your food. Express gratitude for the farmers, the people who picked and packed it, the people who distributed it for purchase, and those who prepared it.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, reminds us that “gratefulness is the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as a gift.”
We go beyond the outward appearance and acknowledge and appreciate the divine qualities that exist in all of life, such as beauty, design, purpose, and the interconnectedness of life.
If you’ve had a bad day, try this: Look to the sky and notice the beauty of clouds and how they change and move. They demonstrate that nothing stays the same. Just appreciating the beauty in the world can change your thoughts and feelings.
When we are in the forest, we feel gratitude for the trees, plants, animals, and earth. Photosynthesis is amazing! Look into the face of a flower and truly notice and appreciate the intricacies of color and design.
We can express gratitude for what we see and don’t see—mountains, oceans, animals, people, and cultures beyond our physical location or the inner workings of our bodies.
Gratitude brings us into a state of wonder. Gratitude brings us into communion with the Divine.
As a gratitude practice becomes a way of being, we can truthfully say, “I AM gratutude.” It is who we are and how we move through the world—grateful for all of it.
“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”—Brother David Steindl-Rast