rec·og·nize || to acknowledge the existence of.
af·firm || to offer support or encouragement.
grat·i·tude || the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for .
Gratitude. Profound. Powerful. Life-shaping. It’s one of those things that defies simple classification and is best practiced without moderation. Numerous studies prove it. Of the many things in life that call for boundary and restraint – gratitude is simply not one of them.
It happens the moment we take an ordinary, grinding, hustling minute of our day, and intentionally put the brakes on it, pausing to acknowledge the unnoticed and unnamed gifts that stand quietly in front of us. The minute we stop and name that thing – a moment, a conversation, a gesture – and appreciate its depth, give meaning to its presence, open our eyes more fully to the inherent worth it holds. The second we stop to delight in the steam streaming up from the hot mug of coffee in our hand, the pair of gloves keeping those hands warm, and the sunlight beaming through our windshield, firing up the magnificent sky in front of us.
“Seeing is … very much a matter of verbalization.
Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it…
I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing.
And…if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life,
I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.”
– Annie Dillard
Gratitude is not a matter of circumstance, but of focus. The mindfulness it takes to slow ourselves long enough to consider the subtle gifts of life – the sacred and the simple – takes practice. Our lives are too full, our busyness too blinding, for the gifts of life to bring themselves to our attention. We must do our diligence to look for them.
And often, in the whirlwind, it’s the people in our lives we miss out on sharing our gratitude for most often.
We deepen our capacity for gratitude, when we choose to see others –
to recognize their greatness, affirm their humanity,
and give gratitude for the gift of their presence.
Gratitude for others takes things up a notch. When we halt that hustling hard minute and decide to put into words the brilliance of that human being along side us. When we pause for a moment in our high-speed hustle and choose to elevate, appreciate and call out the beautiful way someone has shown up in our day. Acknowledging a person’s willingness to be candid and raw in a conversation; articulating a co-worker’s determination in a challenging situation; celebrating in someone a seed of greatness, one that’s budding slow and is quite possibly at its defining moment of failure or flight. These are minutes that have the power to give life.
To choose to articulate –
however messy and awkward –
a genuine expression of gratitude
has the power to reshape an entire perspective.
It was that way for Joanna Ernst, winner of the 1985 Ironman Triathlon World Championship. In High school, Joanna had run on an all boys Cross-Country team, and wins hadn’t come easy. After a particularly grueling track meet, where she sat dejected and discouraged, her coach, Roger Briggs, walked over to her and handed her a hand-written note. It encouraged her to keep up her training, and ended simply with, “Your time will come.”
Four decades later, as she and her husband, Jim Collins, were reading through her old journals, they found the note her old coach had written her. She had since gone on to not only to win the 1985 Ironman Championships, but had returned to her alma mater to become the Track and Cross Country Coach for both the men’s and women’s teams.
There she built a dynasty, winning four state championships and developing a culture around teamwork and collaboration, rather than inidivudal achievement. She writes how the individual accomplishment of her Ironman paled in comparison to the deep meaning that came from developing the kids program, investing in each of their lives and showing them what was possible, just as her coach had done ten decades earlier.
Yet we are human – for one – and self-centric at that. Our natural perspective leans heavy on self-preservation and personal success. Couple that with our narcissistic social media platforms and growing target number of likes on whatever platform we favor, we too quickly forget to highlight the greatness others are up to. We fail to remember that there are other beautiful, powerful, sensational and suffering lives that exist outside of ours – ones that would give anything for a moment to be seen.
We do it on holidays, if we have time – a note in the flowers delivered for Mother’s day – a card with Dad’s new garden gear. We’ll call it out in birthday cards or when someone’s just gotten a life-long-feat off the ground. When the days are set aside and there is clear marked reason for celebration, we get it done.
But in the ordinary hours – when life hums by scentless, normative, without any notable call for celebration, those are the days when a note of encouragement and support, of confidence and care – a well-written RAG note! – can turn the commonplace into the straight-up miraculous.
If the power of speech is as great as any that can be named,
—if the origin of language is by many philosophers considered nothing short of divine—
if by means of words
the secrets of the heart are brought to light and pain of soul is relieved,
hidden grief is carried off and sympathy conveyed,
experience recorded and wisdom perpetuated —
it will not answer to make light of the word or to neglect its study:
rather we may be sure that… as we master it,
we shall ourselves become the ministers of like benefits to others.”
– John Henry Newman
What powerful words. The capacity we have as humans to connect is immeasurable. Brene Brown says it in her book, “We are hardwired to connect … and without it there is suffering.” We cannot begin to predict the potential for impact when we set ourselves aside to love on and care for a co-worker; to share our heart for a sister we know could use a little love; to make the time to stop and look that guy in the eye and tell him how much he genuinely means to us. The richness in the unexpected gestures is held NOT ONLY for the receiver, but for the giver as well.
There are two kinds of gratitude:
The sudden kind we feel for what we take,
and the larger kind we feel for what we give.
– Edwin Robinson
And when we do it, oh the GLORY that comes!
….Seeds of greatness are watered and relationships are granted new depths.
… Eyes are opened to skills sets and weak ties are made stronger.
… Brain chemistry is shifted, mindsets are broadened, and hope can tangibly, powerfully birth.
… Space for creativity is made, bringing greater capacity for ownership, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
… Team members collaborate, connect and communicate without fear.
Let’s face it – as humans, we just operate better knowing we’re in a safe space, knowing we are wanted!, and having people we do life with actually have the guts to tell us so!
By regularly acknowledging, supporting, and showing appreciation, we encourage each other to see joy, to taste hope, to drink deeper of the life we’ve been given; to celebrate the ordinary and relish the great; indeed to see the seeds that, without the water of recognition, may never live to full bloom.
When we choose to articulate the greatness of others,
we water the soil of miracles.