Rushing into the market, my eyes dashed around the unfamiliar layout of a neighborhood grocery store. Suddenly, as I turned the corner of the frozen section, wobbling directly toward me, came an elderly gentleman with slumped shoulders wearing a cap embellished with the "scrambled eggs" design of military distinction. Snapping to attention, I saluted him and said loud enough to be heard through aging ears, "Thank you, sir, for your service to our country." He squared his weary shoulders and returned my salute. Hanging into that position as if frozen in the freezer section, hisgruff, war-town spirit brightened as if washed across with newfound splashes of sunshine. Then great tears fell from his weary eyes and a trembling voice spoke tenderly, "Thank you. No one ever said that to me before." How had such a simple sentence eluded his ears in the many years ensuing his military service?
Are we so busy enjoying our freedoms that we pass a veteran or other protector of our rather comfortable lifestyles and fail to acknowledge their value? Gratitude is such a simple, easy way to lift humanity. Amazingly, a grateful heart takes nothing away from the giver and enriches both the one who gives and the one who receives. Once our large family was invited to a lovely Mar Mitzvah. The greeter at the door grinned broadly as he bobbed his head up and down while counting the trail of children followingtheir father into the synagogue. After placing the necessary yarmulkes on our sons' heads, he said to our patriarch, "You are a rich man . . . a rich man indeed." Having so often been criticized for the population of our family, it was joyous to have someone equate having many children with the richness of family blessings. Though our pockets were empty our home and hearts were full.
If complaining, comparing and coveting could be replaced with sincere compliments and appreciation, positive results could be evident everywhere. "Did you hear about Trent? He just inherited a bundle from his uncle. That stinks! I never have any good fortune come my way!" With a slight paradigm shift, we could be happy for Trent and feel gratitude for the blessings too often taken for granted. We can focus on people, not on things. We don't have to have the best to make the best of what we have. At an amusement park, we can complain about the long lines or focus on the interesting people we are among and the fun ride ahead of us. William Ward claims credit for saying that "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." I remember a so-called joke I heard as a kid. The old man at his wife's funeral said, "She was a good woman. I almost told her so once."
Many impoverished people in Africa are happy people with bright smiles and nothing apparent to smile about. Kids cleverly use discarded plastic bags wadded together and tied up to make coveted soccer balls to kick around the road. Children in orphanages forage for broken pots and buckets or dented cans from trash piles to make drums to keep the beat with while others sing and chant and dance. They laugh and play and focus on the joy of the moment. Dwelling on their "have-nots" is not an option. We learned much about true happiness by hearing their heartfelt expressions. "I am so much grateful to be alive. I am just so much grateful." One woman paused to give a prayer of gratitude for clean water as she knelt by a water dispenser. Others may be praying for what you take for granted every day. Gratitude often seems to magically turn what we have into enough. We could have more but we could also have less. A treasured little grandson's prayer always includes being thankful "for another day of life."
To better appreciate people and things, sometimes we get a better perspective just by thinking of what our lives might be like without them. If we allow it, all joy can be overshadowed with ingratitude. Few are natural born "Pollyannas" but someone observed that it isn't happy people who are thankful rather thankful people who are happy. All can make improvements in happiness for themselves and those around them by looking for the good. It's always out there somewhere. A famous Disney princess sang that it was "just around the river bend."
Veterans' Days and Thanksgiving Days are especially designated as times to pause and express gratitude. We would be well-advised to make everyday a day of Thanksgiving. A well-used gratitude journal can remind us, during both storms and sunshine, of things to rejoice about. One family member recorded simply "colors." Sight to see them is certainly something else to be appreciated. What are you grateful for today? A grateful heart can make every day thanksgiving day.
Serving and sharing with others can help us appreciate our blessings. Once when I was under-rested and overworked from caring for many children and a dying mother, I baked some loaves of fresh-ground whole wheat bread. It always pleased my mother to see that I had moved beyond my first bread-making attempt when she took my heavy bread-shaped doorstop, reground it, and magically turned it into a light and tasty treat. That difficult day, I wrapped a fresh loaf and took it to a dying man down the street whose daughter was caring for him. He was cranky and rejected my gift. I wished him a good day and handed the bread to his weary daughter who received it with gladness. Rejuvenated, I eagerly ran back home rejoicing in my mother's attitude of gratitude.
The One most deserving of our never-ending appreciation is He from whom all blessings flow. God should be the most frequent recipient of our homage and gratitude. As expressed poetically by Cecil Frances Alexander, "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all."
What's up? The constant opportunities for paying more attention to the good things in life. We can rally to salute those who care enough to put their lives on the line for us, those who spend their days doing random acts of kindness and those who are simply struggling through life the best they can. All can be appreciated. They inspire, uplift, teach or give a wakeup call to action. Selfishness begets contention. Gratitude begets godliness. Thomas Monson said, "Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God's love." – Nani's Notes