“Then I spoke of the many opportunities of giving life a meaning. I told my comrades … that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning …”
– Viktor E. Frankl
Like the roots of a tree, I want my life to go deep. To be spread out strong, immovable and brimming with growth and transformation. I want my life to reach others and to impact those around me. I want my life to matter.
When I first began my journey of gratitude, I only saw the outward signs or practices of gratitude – a gift, a note, a smile, a thing of thanks. Of course these things are important and a vital aspect of a gratitude practice. However, two months along in my gratitude journey, after reading, research and searching my own heart, I realise that the practice of gratitude goes far deeper than external signs or practices. Gratitude also has the potential, if I let it, to truly transform me from the inside out. A gratitude practice can inform my relationships, my perspective and how I establish my self as an educator. By living a life of gratitude, I can be fully awake, prepared and also aware. Aware of my inner attitudes, anxieties, resentments and any other hindrances to living a full life and giving my best to my students.
The practice of gratitude is a vessel by which I can create meaning and purpose in my life, but not just for myself. A true gratitude practice is the giving out of what has been received and is also the reciprocal nature of gratitude – the giving and receiving (Howells, 2012). Therefore, gratitude is not just about my meaning and my purpose, but it also draws others in to my world and I, into others’ worlds. Gratitude is a practice of interconnection, relationship, recognition and importantly, the belief that one ripple does go out beyond what we can see (Howells, 2012). The possibilities for expressing gratitude are endless – there is no limit to how we can express our gratitude to others. A smile of thanks. A personal gift. A note. A phone call. Recognise another.
Being recognised is a desire at the very heart of every human being (Visser, 2008). Gratitude is a ferocious act of recognition which flies in the face of an individualistic society, focusing on me, myself and I. Gratitude says, “I see you, I appreciate you, I thank you”, and in doing so, we are perhaps deep down saying, “I was made better by you”. To live in a world where each person recognises another and acknowledges the gifts which have been received, is perhaps to dream of utopia.
Nevertheless, many dreamers have gone before us, to ignite the world with their fire, their passions, driven by the incessant nagging that things must change. Think Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Theresa. Winston Churchill. Nelson Mandela. Lady Diana.
“Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back.” – Diana (1961-1997), Princess of Wales
Each of these people saw the value in another – whether it was in a nation, a race, the poor, or the sick and dying. Gratitude is a practice which sees the value in another and stops; pauses to reflect, to give thanks and to offer a hand or a voice of recognition.
The practice of gratitude opens the door to a community of interconnectedness (Howells, 2012, p. 153). When one practices gratitude, it is impossible to stand afar, to watch from a distance, to live as an island.
Gratitude is a warm embrace. It is an invitation to another to belong and to feel that they belong and that all they have is worthy to be given and received.
My gratitude practice has involved writing thank you cards to specific teachers who have impacted my teaching practice in my work place. The card was an acknowledgement to my fellow staff members, that I had received so much from them and I will always be grateful to them.
In the last couple of months, I have also focused on being more awake in the moment and to be more present to the one who has my attention. I have put down my phone when my children have approached me. In my workplace as a teachers aid, I have focused on looking at my students while I sit with them, listened to them and while doing so, not let my eyes wander around the room at what else was going on.
I want to be that person who recognises another. Who consistently displays the heart of what it means to live a life and cultivate a practice of gratitude. I want to be an “active agent of change” by using a practice of gratitude (Howells, 2012, p. 107). History tells me that one person really can make a difference.
So, darn it. I’m gonna be that one.
Thank you for being with me on my gratitude journey. This is only the beginning. I do hope you have found some inspiration for your own gratitude practice and that you truly know your value, your worth and your potential to change your world.
With deepest gratitude,
*My deepest gratitude to Dr. Kerry Howells, whose fabulous book, Gratitude in Education: a radical view, has been the impetus and the very heart of this blog. It has been my great privilege and joy to read this book and to take up the challenge of a gratitude journey.
Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: a radical view. Rotterdam: Sense publishers.
Visser, M. (2008). The gift of thanks: the roots, persistence, and paradoxical meanings of a social ritual. Toronto, Canada: Harper.