Imagine you’re sitting at a table enjoying your meal when across the restaurant you hear the infectious sound of laughter. Looking toward the beautiful music of these strangers, you notice their genuine smiles and can see the affection they share. Does your soul yearn to be a part of the exchange? To know what spurred their joyful laughs? Do you find yourself trying to recollect the last time you took part in such a moment? There’s an innate desire in human beings to feel happiness, peace, and joy and to want others to feel the same. This is evident in an infant’s widening eyes at a caregiver’s gentle smile and touch or in a toddler’s curiosity and care when they sense an adult with an aching heart.
One sure way to gain those most wanted positive feelings in life is through gratitude. Gratitude comes from the Latin root gratus, meaning thankful, pleasing, welcome, and agreeable. Gratus is also the root of related words such as grace and gratis—all positive actions, ideas, and moods. The Medieval Latin gratitudinem means goodwill. Is it any surprise then that positive feelings would come from acting and thinking in grateful ways?
But does it actually work? Can showing gratitude improve relationships, make challenging situations easier to bear, and turn chores into cherished experiences? The answer is a resounding YES!
Toward the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, amidst unknowns, chaos, and the world closing down, it felt as though there was very little to be grateful for. Suddenly monitoring virtual learning for three elementary school children within our small home was no easy task—in fact, it felt downright overwhelming. The kids could feel it, the man working from the master bedroom “office” on the other side of the wall could feel it, and there was nothing peaceful or joyous about it! Enter stage left- Gratitude! One day, in the midst of it all, the school gave a challenge: STUDENTS, FIND THE MOST CREATIVE PLACE TO READ AND SEND A PICTURE! Rambunctious, cooped up kids and their tired mother were ALL over this challenge. Pretty soon, children were reading in the highest locations that could be safely achieved at home. Watching them beam as they enjoyed their books from, literally, a whole new perspective was so fun, and feelings of gratitude began to flow. Thoughts from how lucky I was to be their mama and have the coolest kids to how grateful I was for such a creative school staff ran through my mind. I also remembered that not everyone had a home library, a husband, or a home to enjoy. Gratitude flowed simply for my health and the strength I had to lift and help my kids into their reading nooks and for technology that allowed virtual learning and connection, despite needing to stay at home. Simply put, gratitude made my tough situation easier to bear—even exciting.
During the following days, weeks, and months, I noticed the other side of the coin on every situation that had once been an “annoyance.” For example, the disruptive little girl on the 1st grade WebEx class call . . . I mean, really, where was her mother?! And why couldn’t she keep her legs down and off the screen? Why didn’t she come to class prepared and ready to learn? Enter stage left- Gratitude! It was a challenge to be a full-time mom, but it also allowed me the time and resources to concentrate more on my children and help them with virtual etiquette like focusing on class calls and attempting to be prepared and on time—what a blessing.
Gratitude brought along its close friend: compassion. Those two things turned my thoughts in new directions. Maybe that disruptive little girl had two working parents, and they were doing their best to help her while keeping up their jobs. Maybe she didn’t have a loving home environment. Maybe her mother had 11 children she was balancing on virtual school, or maybe that student had special needs that made this transition extra challenging. Thank you, Gratitude, for that change in perspective.
It’s not easy allowing gratitude to have a place at the table, and, possibly, the perspective it brought was totally far-fetched or even completely untrue. But the other side of the coin felt good, and goodness is always welcome. I was able to feel grateful for, among other things, the entertainment brought by random outbursts and the immense patience and adaptability of educators.
Gratitude can change our very natures; it did mine. I began judging less and giving the benefit of the doubt more. Choosing to find something to be grateful for in every scenario improved my life.
There was a time when I honestly believed that one of my children would be illiterate, and I had succumbed to that being totally fine. Sight words became curse words in my mind because of how much contention arose while helping this child remember them. I was done trying, done fighting, and was about to give up. This young elementary school student didn’t have a learning disability; he was simply busy and preferred bouncing or tossing balls over sitting still to read.Enter stage left- Gratitude! This was a chance to get creative (not my strength) and an opportunity to grow and step out of my comfort zone. Flashcards went out the window, and instead, sight words were written in chalk on the backyard block wall waiting for this striving reader to throw the ball at a word and yell it out! Gratitude grew even more as I felt thankful for being a mother, for the chance to help my son, to see him grow and overcome hard things, for the lack of patience I saw in myself and the growth I was able to witness as I chose to bite my tongue and persevere. This little guy and his mama’s relationship also improved as we “played” together and as he felt my love and understanding. I was grateful that I knew how to read, so I even had the option to help him learn. Finding books that held his attention was hard, so I felt gratitude for the Renaissance invention of the printing press that opened the door for mass production of literature, giving us the option of so many different books at our fingertips! Gratitude also helped me cherish the moments I let go of the to-do list and wrestled that little guy down so we could snuggle up for a moment to get lost in a story together. Now, years later, I am grateful for the challenge to guide him through that phase because the reward of hearing him read with ease is sweet music to my ears!
Simply put, gratitude turned my chore into a cherished memory.
For you, in whatever situation or phase of life you’re in (busy children, judging others, or learning to read may not be your struggle), the reality of the power of gratitude remains constant. If you let gratitude enter and have a seat at your table, it will bless your life. It’s my challenge to you: LET GRATITUDE IN TO STAY, then get ready to see an increase of positivity, goodwill, and joy.
From one striving soul to another, thank you!
Randa Canter is the author of Uniquely You and I am Safe