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Gratitude: Just for a Season?

Nov 3, 2015

“Ummm…I’m going to need some help out here.”

I was taking out the trash while working at Starbucks several years ago, when I literally stumbled across solid human waste. A guest in our store had left this “present” outside the front door. As I was talking to my co-workers on my headset, another guest poked his head out the door. “Dude, that’s poop! I saw it on my way in and totally forgot to tell you guys.”

Thanks for identifying it, Captain Obvious, but how do you forget something like that?!

That moment bonded all of us who were working that evening. It also became a source of tremendous gratitude.

gratitude - espresso

I had mixed feelings about this job. I needed a second job since my primary job wasn’t full-time and my wife and I were “snowballing” our credit card debt. I had been humbled already in this new position but the day I had to clean up this mess, I hit a new low.

Out of that low, I began realizing many reasons I had to be thankful.
-We are paying off our debt at a rapid rate.
-I’m working with some incredible people, making new friends.
-I’m surrounded by my favorite liquid for 20-25 hours a week.
-My character is being transformed; I’m becoming more humble and teachable.
-As a writer and speaker, I’m getting paid to accumulate stories and illustrations.

I didn’t have these words yet, but I was learning the power of reframing. I was learning how reframing doesn’t change your experience; reframing changes your perception of your experience.

Gratitude: Just for a Season?

We’ve entered into a month (November) where our culture encourages us to pause and give thanks. It is “normal” to stop and practice gratitude for at least one day in the year. In a few weeks, we will sit around tables, eat an obscene amount of calories, fall into a daze in front of a football game and ponder all our blessings.

But will gratitude remain a seasonal experience for us? I believe the way we experience November impacts how we experience December. Tragically, one day of gratitude often leads to one month of greed. The gratitude we experienced on one day in late November is overtaken by our entitlement to gifts, bonuses, and wish lists.

The problem is we can’t have both. Pete Wilson, a pastor and author, once said, “You cannot give thanks for something to which you feel entitled.” In other words, entitlement and gratitude are like oil and water – they don’t co-exist well.

We’ve witnessed this in the people we admire. The people we know who are most grateful are often the most generous. They see what they have as a gift and they bless others.

However, we’ve also seen this truth play out in people we don’t admire. The people we know who are most entitled are often the most greedy. Entitlement fuels a insatiable greed.

Sometimes, it takes a difficult, unpleasant experience (like cleaning up solid human waste) on a Saturday night to provoke reflection. Am I cultivating gratitude in my heart or am I entitled? Am I known for being greedy or generous?

gratitude - blank paper pen

Practicing Gratitude

This month is a great opportunity to begin some habits that don’t have to be seasonal; they can perennial! I’ve seen the following three steps catapult myself and others out of a spirit of entitlement and into a spirit of gratefulness.

1. Ask someone else where they see entitlement in your life.
Maybe you already know where you struggle with entitlement. If so, then name that spot courageously. If you’re struggling with self-awareness, the people around you probably see what you can’t and are waiting for you to catch up. Have the courage to ask them. While you may be struggling to identify those areas, I don’t think others around you are.

2. Exercise your gratitude muscle daily.
Gratitude is not a feeling or a product of circumstances. Gratitude is a choice we make to reframe our circumstances or reinterpret our feelings. Like a muscle we strengthen, our ability to cultivate gratitude only gets stronger with consistent use. (For more on this concept, check out Tim Sanders’ book, Today We Are Rich.)
Every fall, I share a #GratitudeMuscle challenge with my friends. It involves identifying 2 or 3 things you’re grateful for daily. You share those with someone in person or on social media. I try to practice this habit throughout November. When I post online, I tag it with #GratitudeMuscle. This normally provokes some great conversations.

3. Write someone a thank you letter and go read it to them.
Writing notes is a lost art. I do my best to write several thank you notes a month. It helps me stay grateful and it ensures someone else gets something in the mail other than political ads and junk.
I encourage you to identify someone who has made an impact on you. Write a letter to them explaining what they did and why it mattered. Share with them how much you appreciate them and why you value them. Don’t type it out – there’s something about writing by hand that improves this experience.
Then, go to them (face-to-face) and read the letter. Again, this won’t be the same if you do it over the phone. (In a pinch, Skype or FaceTime will work.) After you finish reading – and you both finish crying – give them letter to keep. This could be a moment you both won’t forget.

We’re just a few weeks away from “the most wonderful time of the year.” The kind of attitude you cultivate now can radically impact the experience you have in the future. Regardless of whether you’re in the midst of struggle or success today, I want to challenge you to cultivate gratitude in your heart.

You woke up today. You’re breathing. You’re alive. Those are gifts! You get to go to work or school or carry out some tasks today. You don’t have to; you get to! Other people would love to have the opportunities you’re experiencing. Don’t take today for granted; it’s not going to come by ever again.

 

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