One evening, I was flipping through channels and paused at a scene from the television show Grey’s Anatomy. It was a voiceover by the show’s main character, Meredith Grey. She said, “Maybe being grateful means recognizing what you have for what it is. Appreciating small victories. Admiring the struggle it takes to simply be human. At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.”
Gratefulness is defined as letting others know by one’s words and actions how they have benefited one’s life. Others shape our lives and help make us who we are. We build gratefulness by sharpening our alertness to the benefits we experience and by recognizing the people who make each benefit possible. The benefits we receive aren’t always tangible, like getting a gift from a friend or having a meal paid for by a dinner partner. Sometimes, the little things, like a hug or a smile, can have just as significant an impact on us and deserve the same amount of gratefulness.
I read a story once about a dog who was getting older and had begun to lose his eyesight. The author was astounded by the way the dog’s happiness did not seem to be affected by his blindness. He still went for walks, still ran around the yard, and was as eager as a puppy to explore. The author marveled at the way the dog had faced down blindness, an enormous challenge for any creature, and was as chipper as he had been when he could still see. The author asked this question of his readers, “How many of us would be like that dog?” How many of us would conquer the challenge as easily as an old dog? Stories like this make us look at ourselves and think about our blessings. We have people who care about us and look after us. We have people who would help us get through trials such as blindness. The dog only has his nose and his ears, and yet he is happier than most of us would be even with all the people in our lives to support us.
Gratefulness doesn’t stop with realizing the many benefits we experience. Gratefulness is an active expression, not a passive feeling. Once we understand how someone has contributed to our lives, we must find ways to honor them. Being grateful is an interactive character trait. You must express it, otherwise it is never true gratefulness.
Taking the time to express gratefulness is often difficult, but this process is vital for building solid relationships. I know that I should make sure to send out thank you notes after I receive gifts, but life always seems to get so busy, and I never get around to it. I always tell myself that my friends know that I appreciate the gifts and so it is okay that I don’t send the notes. This is nothing but a way to appease my guilt. Always take the initiative to express genuine gratefulness. If you keep procrastinating, you never know when you might lose that chance to tell someone how much you are thankful for them.
Gratefulness is not something that should only be expressed on Thanksgiving. It is important to recognize those who contribute to your life in both large and small ways and thank them everyday. Like Meredith Grey said, simply being human is a struggle. Take the time to thank those people who make your life a little bit less of a struggle.